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Firms should be ‘creative’ in embracing whistleblowers

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Companies should be creative in the way they handle complaints and make sure staff who raise concerns are celebrated, according to a leading businesswoman and writer.

Margaret Heffernan, author of Wilful Blindness and Beyond Measure, was speaking at an event hosted by whistleblowing charity Public Concern At Work in London last night.

Ms Heffernan applauded nurse Helene Donnelly who blew the whistle at the former Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust for the work she is currently doing at Staffordshire and Stoke On Trent Partnership NHS Trust.

“She has done things in a very creative way with her CEO at her new trust, and they are celebrating people who raise concerns,” she said.

The event marked the launch of guidelines and a report into the findings of the first companies to sign up to the Whistleblowing Commission Code of Practice, created by whistleblowing charity Public Concern At Work.

The code of practice was developed to support employers and workers, and their charity’s “First 100 campaign” gave companies the opportunity to be one of the first 100 to sign up to the commission’s principles.

“We are highlighting some of the innovative ways that organisations have used to ensure their whistleblowing arrangements are effective”

Cathy James

Feedback on the code from the 13 companies suggested managers needed to be trained and retrained to learn how to handle concerns from staff, and must also communicate the positive outcomes of raising concerns.

Ms Heffernan, a guest speaker at the event, agreed: “The message you want the whistleblower to get is ‘thank you’.

“You need them to know they won’t be penalized, as they have done you a favour and helped you do your job better,” she said. “Companies must tell stories of how when someone spoke up it saved the business.”

Cathy James, chief executive of Public Concern At Work, said their code “dovetails” with Sir Robert Francis’ Freedom to Speak up report, published in February, and Nursing Times’ ongoing Speak Out Safely campaign.

It was also “in line” with the new integrated national policy published this week for consultation, she said.

She added: “NHS organisations are bound to be working on this issue given the Francis report and we would encourage more of them to sign up to this campaign.

“It is a good way to promote the work being undertaken to make sure staff understand that speaking up or whistleblowing is something to be celebrated and championed,” she said.

“With this new report and guidance we are highlighting some of the innovative ways that organisations have used to ensure their whistleblowing arrangements are effective and we hope that it will help all organisations to get whistleblowing right,” said Ms James.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • michael stone

    The NHS cannot 'learn' from 'concerns' unless it wants to learn - which, as this article points out, means listening to people who raise concerns 'from the perspective of wanting to see if we can improve'.

    I think it is very important, that NHS staff supply their views about the Whistleblowing Consultation - I pointed that out in the DIC discussion forum yesterday, and apparently it is going to be mentioned on a Facebook page:

    This is down to a rather complex mixture involving 'attitude/culture', often conflicting objectives, and also responsibility for decisions (and praise/blame for 'poor decisions'), but the NHS doesn't seem to be getting it right at the moment. In any organisation as complex as the NHS, the opportunity to learn from analyses of 'mistakes' [at a higher than merely personal level - i.e. 'systemic mistakes/flaws'] needs to be grasped.

    Mind you, seeing your own mistakes, tends to be quite difficult - Margaret McCartney has just written a piece for BMJ about the junior doctors strike. She comments in her piece:

    'Jeremy Hunt’s biggest success as health secretary has been to unite the medical profession—against him.'

    So if the medical profession sees the health secretary as the enemy, it isn't surprising that some managers and some front-line NHS staff, are distrustful of each other, and that learning from concerns isn't easy.

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