Whistleblowers who have suffered as a result of speaking out should receive an apology and see action taken to remedy the harm done to them, according to the latest report by the health select committee into the handling of complaints within the NHS.
MPs said the treatment of whistleblowers remained a “stain on the reputation of the NHS”, which had led to “unwarranted and inexcusable pain” for a number of health care professionals, described as “courageous individuals”.
The committee has called for those staff who are proven to be vindicated in their concerns to be issued with an apology and practical redress for any adverse effects they experienced as a result.
“There should be a programme to identify whistleblowers who have suffered… and provide them with an apology and practical redress”
Complaints and Raising Concerns report
In its report, the committee says: “We recommend that there should be a programme to identify whistleblowers who have suffered serious harm and whose actions are proven to have been vindicated, and provide them with an apology and practical redress.”
In this fourth report – called Complaints and Raising Concerns – the committee makes 21 recommendations to improve the way staff and patients speak up about concerns.
It welcomed the progress made since its last inquiry, noting that patient safety and the treatment of complaints had become high profile issues, but said there was still significant scope for improvement.
A simplified, streamlined complaints system should be introduced, said MPs, who also highlighted there was a strong case for integrating social and health care complaints under the same umbrella system.
MPs also endorsed a suggestion from Sir Robert Francis QC that trusts should be required to publish summaries of anonymised complaints made against them, how they have been handled and the lessons learned.
The committee noted that Sir Robert’s own whistleblowing inquiry - due to be published early this year - has received more than 600 written submissions and 17,500 online responses and said it hoped the findings would provide a template for creating an open complaints reporting culture.
Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston said: “This report does not seek to undermine [NHS staff] commitment but to make sure that where poor standards do occur, these can be identified and put right at the earliest opportunity for the benefit of patients and staff alike.
“Concerns and complaints are an important source of information for improving services and it is vital that the NHS continues on the path of changing the way that these are viewed and handled.”
Commenting on the proposal that whistleblowers should receive practical redress, the NHS Confederation – which represents provider and commissioning organisations – welcomed the recommendation.
NHS Confederation chief executive Rob Webster said: “We support the calls for practical redress for those who have been harmed as a consequence of raising genuine concerns. We should apply the same golden thread of complaints handling to staff who have been failed.”