12 February 2015
The findings of a review into NHS whistleblowing have been published.
The review, led by Sir Robert Francis QC, the lawyer who led the inquiry into the care scandal at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, “was set up in response to continuing disquiet about the way NHS organisations deal with concerns raised by NHS staff and the treatment of some of those who have spoken up”.
In the report Sir Robert Francis says he encountered “truly shocking” cases of NHS whistleblowers being bullied, intimidated and ignored after raising concerns.
He said; “I heard shocking accounts of the way some people have been treated when they have been brave enough to speak up. I witnessed at first hand their distress and the strain on them and, in some cases, their families. I heard about the pressures it can place on other members of a team, on managers, and in some cases the person about whom a concern is raised. Though rare, I was told of suicidal thoughts and even suicide attempts”.
The underlying blame culture in the NHS is preventing employees from raising concerns, according to the report.
30 per cent of employees who had raised concerns said they felt “unsafe” afterwards. 15 per cent of those who hadn’t raised a concern said that victimisation had held them back.
The report sets out 20 ‘Principles and Actions’ which aim to create the right conditions for NHS staff to speak up, proposing “action at every level of the NHS to make raising concerns part of every member of staff’s normal working life”. The recommendations include a new support scheme, whistleblower guardians in every hospital, and a National Independent Officer to support the local guardians and identify failings.
Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, has announced he will fast-track the recommendation for ‘whistleblower guardians’ into law. Their role will be to protect and advise those who want to speak up about wrongdoing in the NHS. The “Freedom to Speak Up Guardians” will be introduced across all NHS trusts in England, reporting directly to hospital chief executives.