Nurse whistleblowers could be protected in future from pressure to keep quiet if key recommendations in the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry report are adopted.
Robert Francis QC told Nursing Times he wanted to create whistleblowing safeguards through a new criminal offence for any individual or organisation that “willfully obstructs” someone trying to raise concerns.
One of the key recommendations in his report called for a legally binding “duty of candour”, which would require all NHS staff and directors to be open and honest when mistakes occurred and to speak up where there was a potential risk to patients.
Mr Francis also recommended a new criminal offence where any healthcare worker could be prosecuted if they knowingly obstructed others from raising concerns, provided misleading information to patients or families, or made a dishonest statement to a commissioner or regulator.
Speaking to Nursing Times, Mr Francis said: “I have called for a statutory duty of candour that trusts tell the truth to regulators and that there should be criminal sanctions if there’s willful obstruction of anyone performing their duties and informing their trusts about concerns to patients.
“That is about as rigorous protection of whistleblowers as you can imagine, and that’s what I intended,” he said.
Dean Royles, director of the organisation NHS Employers, acknowledged that trusts had previously failed to “convince staff” to raise concerns.
But he said Mr Francis’s recommendations would require a “mammoth communication effort and training of staff and managers so they understand the obligations and implications”.
“We need the big win to be the cultural change, not the criminal sanction,” he added.