08 December 2010

Australian Workplace - Canberra Hospital's Maternity Unit Bullying Cover Up?

Gallagher 'covering-up' maternity unit report

Pressure is mounting on the ACT Government to release the findings of an inquiry into bullying allegations at Canberra Hospital's maternity unit.

Earlier this year the ACT Government ordered two external reviews into the hospital's obstetrics and gynaecology units after allegations of workplace bullying were made.

The Government appointed a workplace relations expert to investigate the bullying claims.

The investigation was conducted under the Public Interest Disclosure Act - a law designed to protect whistleblowers by keeping information confidential.

Health Minister Katy Gallagher says confidentiality clauses in the legislation prevent her from reading the report or it being publicly released.

But the Opposition is pushing for the report's recommendations to be released in the Legislative Assembly.

Opposition health spokesman Jeremy Hanson says the information could be released without personal details being made public.

"I want to see the recommendations, I want to see the findings and unless we see that then we're going to have to consider further action," he said.

Mr Hanson says the Government is deliberately trying to cover-up the report.

"The minister has set this process up under the Public Interest Disclosure Act to avoid scrutiny," he said.

"We were very concerned about this when it occurred in February. We said then that what we needed was an open inquiry because in the end of the day the minister's going to make sure that this never sees the light of day, and it has come to fruition."

The ACT Greens says releasing details of the inquiry could jeopardise investigations in the future.

"What Mr Hanson is suggesting could potentially expose people, could threaten their confidentiality - either he doesn't understand the process or he's using it for his own political ends," said Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan.

Ms Bresnan says releasing any detail could lead to a loss of faith in the public interest disclosure process.

"With public interest disclosure, people have come forward on the understanding everything would be protected and while we might say, 'it's only a few details', Canberra's a small place, this is a small unit, and any information could actually potentially identify the people involved," she said.

"It would really seriously undermine the whole public interest disclosure process."

Chief Minister Jon Stanhope says the inquiry will be followed up.

"I can give an absolute assurance that any of the findings will be taken absolutely seriously and if there were recommendations or implications they will be taken seriously and there's no reason for people not to believe that," he said.

The Health Services Union says there is a broader problem with the way bullying claims are handled.

"It just seems to be endemic and also the process is so lacking in transparency and information," said union spokeswoman Bev Turello.

ACT Health says it has written to the people involved in the inquiry.

But the Ms Turello says in the union's experience, staff are often kept in the dark.

"They need to know if action has been taken, if appropriate action has been taken, if they're going to be safe in their workplaces."

Royal College of Obstetricians ACT chair Dr Andrew Foote says it has been nearly 12 months since the bullying allegations were made public and nothing has changed.

"I've spoken to a number of people at the hospital and there is a real dread, and fear and sense of helplessness," he said.

"It sends the message, what's the point in complaining about bullying because nothing will get done."


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