An independent hotline to report unethical behavior by nurses was launched last month by the South African Nursing Council (SANC), the country’s regulating body for nurses. It appears to be a world first.

The majority of nurses are committed to safe, competent and ethical practice but, as in any field of work, there are incidents where nurses act outside of the relevant laws and rules of acceptable and ethical conduct. Also, unfortunately, such episodes seem to be on the rise in modern society and with the ever-increasing pressure placed on the nurses. Unacceptable practices by nurses should be reported to the relevant regulating body as their behavior not only endangers the well-being and safety of patients but also impacts on the organization they work for, their colleagues and the profession as a whole.

Co-workers and also family members of patients may fear retaliation. This is why the SANC appointed an external service provider where the Fraud Hotline Service acts as a channel for reporting incidents while callers remain anonymous to any other parties. Whistleblowing is more effective where anonymity can be guaranteed.

People may also be put off from reporting due to first having to find out which organization to report to, sourcing the contact details and then going through hoops at a switchboard to get to the right person. Some regulating bodies for nurses in other parts of the world have introduced complaint forms on their websites whereby incidents can be reported on an online form. This does not solve the problem, especially for the public, to determine to whom incidents should be reported. The online forms generally also require considerable detail, substantiating evidence, as well as the identity of the whistleblower.

Many of these pitfalls have been addressed by the SANC through establishing an independent, dedicated, 24-hour Fraud Hotline. It is operated from a secure call center in an undisclosed location and if the caller prefers to remain anonymous, their identity is not even revealed to the SANC itself. Information about reported incidents is forwarded to the Council, which then determines how it should be dealt with.

“We are urging nurses and the public alike to utilize the SANC Fraud Hotline to report any unethical practices,” said Sizeni Mchunu, CEO and registrar of the Council. “Do not be a silent observer of practices that erode the very values we wish to uphold.”

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Nurses should be reported if their practice or behavior violates a nursing or nursing-related law or rule; is unsafe, incompetent or unethical; or is adversely affected by the use of alcohol or drugs or any physical or mental condition.

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Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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