Health Minister Dan Poulter has backed Nursing Times’ Speak out Safely campaign and called on NHS organisations to make a “positive commitment” to staff they would not be disciplined for raising concerns.
Speaking to Nursing Times this week Dr Poulter said some trusts still had “work to do” to support nurses and other NHS staff who speak out about patient safety issues.
He said: “It is hugely welcome that the Nursing Times is throwing its weight behind the openness and transparency agenda in the NHS. It is something the government is very much committed to.”
Nursing Times launched Speak out Safely in the wake of the Francis report into the scandal of poor care at Mid Staffordshire. The campaign aims for an NHS which encourages people to raise concerns and protects them from bullying or victimisation when they do.
It calls on the government to implement a legal duty of candour on individual staff, as recommended by Robert Francis QC. Mr Francis proposed staff should be required by law to alert their employer if an incident occurred that led to death or serious harm to a patient who in turn should tell the patient or their relatives. Anyone who tries to prevent an individual from exercising this duty of candour would be breaking the law.
The campaign also calls on NHS trusts to make a public pledge not to discipline staff who raise genuine patient safety concerns. Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership Trust became the fourth organisation to make the commitment last week.
Dr Poulter urged all trusts to sign up.
“It’s about trusts making that very positive commitment to all staff,” he said.
He also revealed the government was making efforts to improve the Public Interest Disclosure Act by widening the definition of “worker” to give whistleblowers greater protection under the law.
The government has already committed to introducing a statutory duty of candour on organisations. However, Dr Poulter told Nursing Times he remained cautious about introducing a similar duty on individuals.
He said: “We want to ensure this does not unnecessarily produce a culture of fear which could in time defeat the object of what we want to do.
“We are working to ensure we close any loopholes in the law that there may be and to make the law protecting whistleblowers stronger.”
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