Trusts should not delay in appointing proposed new whistleblowing champions if they feel confident to do so, despite the absence of formal guidance on the new role, according to the government.
The “freedom to speak up guardians” were among a number of recommendations made by Sir Robert Francis earlier this year following his independent review of how whistleblowers are treated in the NHS.
“If trusts feel confident to appoint their guardian without this guidance, they should not wait for the guidance to be published”
Department of Health
His report, the Freedom to Speak Up Review, also proposed a national version of this role – called the independent national officer – be appointed to oversee the improvements in creating open reporting cultures within trusts.
Results from a consultation by the Department of Health on how to implement the new “freedom to speak up guardians” found there was “strong support” for national approach to the role, such as having a standard job specification and training.
There was also “significant support” for the role to be either shared or to sit within a team, according to the consultation results, which were based on 106 respondents.
“The reasons given were that the role could become overwhelming or stressful for just one person due to both volume of work and the nature of the concerns,” said the government in its response document, called Learning not Blaming.
“It was felt that sharing the role could ensure that the responsibility of the role does not sit with one person,” it said.
However, the Department of Health concluded that it was for the independent national officer, once appointed, to decide what national guidance was required and what factors need to be taken into account when recruiting to the local guardian role.
“If trusts feel confident to appoint their guardian without this guidance, they should not wait for the guidance to be published. Any appointments should be made within the principles set out in the Freedom to Speak Up review,” said the DH.
“We would expect the Freedom to Speak Up guardian… to be appointed by the chief executive of the organisation to act in a genuinely independent capacity”
Department of Health
Meanwhile, the consultation found the majority of respondents were in full support of the independent national officer role being hosted by the Care Quality Commission, as suggested by Sir Robert and with which the DH agreed.
The DH also considered whether the Freedom to Speak Up guardians should report to the board of the organisation that appointed them, or directly to the independent national officer.
“We are of the view that we would expect the Freedom to Speak Up guardian, as recommended in the Freedom to Speak Up report, to be appointed by the chief executive of the organisation to act in a genuinely independent capacity,” it said.
“The Freedom to Speak Up guardian would raise concerns with the trust’s chief executive or the board. However, we recommend the Freedom to Speak Up guardian should be able to raise concerns with the Independent National Officer if they have lost confidence, or consider good practice has not been followed, in how the organisation was handling concerns,” added the DH.
The CQC should consult this summer on how the independent national officer role will be implemented and should appoint someone to the role by December, said the DH.
It also proposed that Health Education England produce guidance on what training will be needed for the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian role, along with its development of a curriculum for NHS organisations on training around raising concerns.
More widely, the DH has asked NHS England to produce specific guidance by September for primary care organisations on how to implement the recommendations in the Freedom to Speak Up report.