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Whistleblowing detriment legislation extends to student nurses


Student nurses and midwives now have the same level of legal protection as registered staff if they are mistreated or dismissed as a result of raising concerns, following changes to legislation that came into effect this week.

An amendment to the Employment Rights Act means students are now able to take organisations to an employment tribunal if they have been forced to leave their placement or have experienced bullying, disciplinary action or any damage to their career prospects as a result of whistleblowing.

“I’m hopeful this change will ensure employers take more seriously the concerns raised by student nurses and midwives”

Christopher Cox

The change to student nurse and midwife protection, which came into effect on 6 April, is expected to further encourage trusts to ensure they have effective whistleblowing policies in place.

It is also expected to encourage students to raise issues they have around poor care, without the fear of having their career harmed.

Employers or placement providers are at risk of being taken to an employment tribunal if a student or registrant has suffered detriment as a direct result of making a “protected disclosure” to either the trust or another prescribed body, such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

A “protected disclosure” must be about serious wrongdoing and be made in the public interest. The concerns raised do not have to be proven to be true, but they must have been made with the reasonable belief that harm was or could have occurred.

“Nursing and midwifery students are just as likely as registered staff to witness poor practice and raise concerns in the interests of patients”


Compensation from protected disclosure cases is uncapped and, in the past, nurses have claimed back thousands of pounds. Since 2011, the Royal College of Nursing has supported 135 whistleblowing cases, with a total of £424,640 in compensation.

Christopher Cox, director of legal services at the RCN, said “We really welcome this extension of protection. We’ve been lobbying for it for a number of years and I’m hopeful that this change will ensure employers take more seriously the concerns raised by student nurses and midwives.”

In a statement, the NMC said: “Nursing and midwifery students are just as likely as registered nurses and midwives to witness poor practice and raise concerns in the interests of patients. This is good for public protection.”

In a report published earlier this year on whistleblowing by Sir Robert Francis, student nurses told of how they had been bullied and of their assessments “suddenly becoming negative” after speaking out.

Robert Francis

Robert Francis

However, in his Freedom to Speak Up report, Sir Robert reviewed the effectiveness of legal protection for those who speak out and found there was “no evidence that the prospect of an employment tribunal case deters victimisation”.

He described the current legislation for protected disclosures as “weak” and instead suggested a raft of proposals to change the culture of the NHS, which he said would be more effective in ensuring concerns are handled effectively.


Readers' comments (7)

  • michael stone

    Good - everyone who raises a genuine concern 'should be legally protected', in my opinion.

    Stronger protection [all round] is necessary full stop - as Sir Robert pointed out in his report.

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  • So they'll now get the same protection as everyone else.

    Wow, but that translates in reality to virtually no protection at all.

    That's the way it is.....and RF's Review has done little to change that.

    He did say the situation was bad, but then we already knew that.

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  • I cannot tell you just how many nurses i come across, who speak up about bullying, harrassment or neglect to patients, only to be informed that if they pursue this line, their career will be at an end, with no reference and everyone will be made aware of their conduct. Either that, or a case is built against them to discredit their claims.
    Every bit helps, the culture first needs the middle to senior managers to be taken to task with absolute zero tolerance towards bullying and harassment within hospitals.

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  • Nurses are too scared to whistleblow for fear of negative consequences. There needs to be a strong protection policy in place.

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  • Hope springs eternal that this really will improve the situation.

    No doubt feedback idc from those who have stuck their necks well and truly above the parapet in reporting abuse and bullying - and are confident that they've survived unscathed - will show whether or not it's made the necessary difference.

    Obviously, this will take a fairly long time in order for such feedback to be reliable sc. to ensure that any absence of adverse consequences to the whistleblower is not purely in the short term!

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  • The Buurtzorg care model operating in the Netherlands if rolled out throughout the Netherlands would, the auditors reckon, save the Netherlands 2 billion euro each year. Translated to the UK it would save us 6 billion pounds a year. It has the highest customer satisfaction and the lowest costs of all. Also job satisfaction rates very highly!
    What are we waiting for? The current system stinks. Cameron promised a bottom-up reorganisation but yet again a top-down reorganisation happened.
    Respect Buurtzorg!

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  • Being Devils advocate here - what if someone is just 'telling tales' to get someone into bother and not using it correctly to highlight e.g. bullying and harrassment or poor standards of care. Where is the protection for staff if there is vexatious or malicious 'whistleblowing' - it does happen. Of course we want protection for raising concerns but what if the concerns prove unfounded !

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