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Nurses working in hospitals where Jimmy Savile was a frequent visitor during the 1970s and 1980s must have had a difficult week. Listening to the testimonies of the women who say they were assaulted by the late broadcaster has been harrowing in itself, but even more so for those left wondering whether they could have stopped the abuse.
There is evidence that some nurses did speak out. A retired detective told the BBC that a nurse tipped him off about Savile's activities at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, but the officer could not persuade his superiors to launch an investigation. A young female patient at Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire told nurse Naomi Stanley that Savile had repeatedly raped her. But Ms Stanley claimed in The Guardian that managers and police failed to act on her allegations.
Many of the women who have come forward to share their stories say they either told responsible adults about what had happened and were not believed, or had decided against speaking out because they did not expect to be taken seriously. Nurses working at Stoke Mandeville, Broadmoor or Leeds General Infirmary, where Savile also had access to patients, have reported feeling in a similar position.
Preventing such abuse will always be difficult, not least because determined sex offenders are skilled at finding their way round hurdles. The Protection of Children Act, passed by the Labour government in 1999, sought a bureaucratic solution. Anyone coming into contact with young people would have to be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau, while the Independent Safeguarding Authority would collate intelligence on individuals.
This approach, and the Protection of Vulnerable Adults scheme that ran in parallel, seemed heavy-handed. It was also unfair on those subject to vexatious claims, and was challenged successfully in the courts by the RCN.
There is a difficult balance to strike between ensuring adults who work with children are not all treated as potential paedophiles, while minimising the chances of abusive adults gaining access. Any safeguards must be proportionate. But the testimonies we have heard this week from Savile's alleged victims are a timely reminder that the balance must always be heavily weighted in favour of protecting those most at risk of abuse.
Editorial | October 17th 2012 | Volume 27 No 7
Nursing Standard is published every Wednesday by RCN Publishing Company Ltd, the publishing company of the Royal College of Nursing.
It seeks to promote professional excellence, and encourage creativity and innovation in nursing, midwifery and health visiting practice. Nursing Standard also aims to enhance nurses' and healthcare assistants' career development and to help them achieve and maintain a healthy and rewarding working environment. Nursing Standard is editorially independent and the opinions expressed are not those of the RCN or of the contributor's employing organisation unless specifically stated.