House of Commons Library

NHS whistleblowing procedures in England

Published Friday, September 18, 2015

This briefing sets out the current rights and procedures for NHS staff to raise concerns about safety, malpractice or wrongdoing at work (popularly known as “whistleblowing”).

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This briefing sets out the current rights and procedures for NHS staff in England to raise concerns about safety, malpractice or wrongdoing at work (popularly known as “whistleblowing”). It also refers to guidance on where wider disclosure of concerns may be appropriate, including raising concerns with the Care Quality Commission. Serious failures in care such as those at Stafford Hospital (part of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust) and at Winterbourne View private hospital have focussed attention on whistleblowing policies and the need to ensure that staff feel able to raise concerns (and that reported concerns are acted on).

Employment law and policy (of which whistleblowing law and policy is a part), and health law and policy, are devolved matters in Northern Ireland. In Scotland and Wales employment law is not devolved, but health law is. Decisions about implementation of whistleblowing policies in the NHS in each part of the United Kingdom are therefore a matter for each of the devolved governments.

This briefing also provides an overview of statutory protections for staff but further information on this, and the issue of ‘gagging clauses’ in compromise agreements, can be found in the Library briefing, Whistleblowing and gagging clauses: the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (SN00248). NHS complaints procedures for patients and the public are covered in the Library briefing, NHS complaints procedures in England (CBP07168). The Details of other organisations that can provide advice to NHS employees who want to raise concerns, and links to some of the relevant guidance and professional standards for the various healthcare professions and for NHS managers, can be found at the end of this note.

Update: In June 2014 the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, announced that he had asked Sir Robert Francis QC to lead a public inquiry to look at how staff can be supported to raise their concerns to make sure people receive safe care. Sir Robert’s report, Freedom to Speak Up, was published on 11 February 2015. The report and the Government initial response are available here. On 16 July 2015 the Government published, Learning not blaming, which set out how it would meet he Francis recommendations, to:

  • put in place Freedom to Speak Up Guardians in each Trust;
  • ensure that every local NHS provider provides training in raising and listening to concerns;
  • review the Professional Codes of doctors, nurses and midwives and ensure that the right incentives are in place to encourage people to report openly.

Commons Briefing papers SN06490

Author: Tom Powell

Topics: Health services, Health staff and professions

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