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'It’s your responsibility to report patient safety concerns'


Try to nip problems in the bud before they get serious, says the CQC’s Cynthia Bower

In some cases a degree of resolve, if not courage, is needed to blow the whistle at work. As the industry regulator, it is key that the Care Quality Commission provides clear guidance to workers about how to express any concerns they may have.

The CQC has just produced updated guidance on whistleblowing, for which it has had support and suggestions from other organisations, including the Royal College of Nursing, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Royal College of Midwives and NHS Employers.

In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a need for whistleblowing. Employers should ensure care is of the highest standard and their staff need not go outside their own organisation to have their concerns addressed. Good standards of care usually go hand in hand with an open management culture that encourages staff to make their views known without fear of reprisals. If their worries are properly dealt with, every-one will benefit. To underline this the CQC has also produced a providers’ guide to whistleblowing to help employers understand the benefits of a positive approach.

“After the alleged abuse of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View private hospital, the CQC admitted there had been fault on its part in failing to follow up the concerns of a whistleblower”

My plea to you is: don’t wait until a problem becomes serious - try to nip it in the bud. I know some, especially junior staff, may lack the confidence to approach their manager. However, it is their professional responsibility to report any concerns they have that the welfare or safety of patients is being adversely affected. If they have tried unsuccessfully to get their organisation to resolve a problem, or are not confident it will be dealt with properly, they should report their concerns to the CQC or the Department of Health via its whistleblowing hotline.

After the alleged abuse of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View private hospital, the CQC admitted there had been fault on its part in failing to follow up the concerns of a whistleblower. After reviewing its systems and processes, it set up a special team at its national customer service centre in Newcastle to ensure all whistleblowing concerns that come to the CQC are logged and the follow-up action is tracked until it reaches a conclusion.

Each matter is passed to the local inspector for that particular registered service, who decides what action is necessary. Depending on the concerns, there could be an inspection by the CQC or a referral to the local authority under the multiagency safeguarding procedures.

In the last six months, the CQC received nearly 2,500 concerns from whistleblowers from the NHS, independent healthcare providers, social care services and even dental practices. Among the concerns raised about NHS services were: inadequate staffing levels, bullying, errors in drug administration, cases of misdiagnosis, delays in patients being examined and a lack of follow-up appointments.

I won’t pretend whistleblowers are never adversely affected as a result of their actions, but under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, those who suffer dismissal, victimisation or any other detriment can take a compensation claim to an employment tribunal.

The CQC values information from whistleblowers. Anyone who is thinking about blowing the whistle, but worried about it, should seek confidential advice by ringing the DH’s hotline; contacting Public Concern at Work; or talking to their trade union or professional body. Employers can also get advice from these sources.

  • The CQC’s guidance can be found at: You can contact the CQC by emailing: or telephoning: 03000 616161. The DH whistleblowing hotline is 0800 0724 725. Public Concern at Work can be contacted on 020 7404 6609.

Cynthia Bower is chief executive of the Care Quality Commission


Readers' comments (18)

  • The link (below) details another "whistle blower" who's career has been ruined. The case is on going and it is worth reading.

    The Chief Executive named in the article was another the system rewarded for failure! He was "parachuted" from Coventry to another NHS Trust and was later awarded a CBE

    It pays to be a sycophant NOT a whistle blower

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  • "He was "parachuted" from Coventry to another NHS Trust and was later awarded a CBE"

    W H A T ? ? ? ? ? ! ! !

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  • I was dismissed by telephone from the nurse in charge of the organisation, a Franciscan nun, from a new job after only a very few shifts, which was the start of the end of my career at the age of 50. This happened because I had been heard to complain about the establishment. I have no recollection of this as I had no grounds to do so, I was not offered a chance to discuss the matter with the person in charge who had phoned me or know who had reported me nor to defend myself. RCN said they were unable to offer any support and there was nothing they or I could do about it because it was a private clinic associated with well known insurance companies.

    I find this a thoroughly despicable and unacceptable way for somebody in such a position to behave as I had always looked to such individuals to set a good example and give a good reputation to their profession, their clinic and the community. It seems like double standards - treat your nursing staff one way and the doctors, patients/clients and the general public another and without which you will not get their custom.

    This was my first job after returning from a highly successful and enjoyable 20 year career abroad and was caught totally unawares as I had no idea of the evil scheming which takes place in the UK health services.

    In hindsight, I had talked briefly to two nurses in the morning who were bitterly complaining and i could understand why when the young sister came on duty and the way she spoke to and treated us. I think I must have been used as their scapegoat.

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  • King Vulture

    Anonymous | 4-Aug-2012 10:15 pm

    'For those considering assistance from it is now manned by a mental health charity, so is not really likely to have the expertise one needs to fight the system skillfully. which is a same really, we need all the help we can get.'

    Assuming the person fighting the system is a good learner, the problem is that by the time you have learnt the best tactics, you need a rematch.

    The first bout, is loaded in favour of the system - very heavily !

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  • Anonymous | 5-Aug-2012 10:43 am

    "He was "parachuted" from Coventry to another NHS Trust and was later awarded a CBE"

    W H A T ? ? ? ? ? ! ! !

    True! ---- the information is in the Public domain and can easily be found

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  • Anonymous | 5-Aug-2012 3:27 pm

    I wasn't doubting it. just expressing my shock but at the end of the day why should I be surprised any longer?

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  • The same character destroyed a Consultant Surgeons career some years ago. I forget the details now but the row was such that Parliamentary Question where asked !

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  • I have found the case forgive me redacting relevant names. (I am unsure if I am legally safe to publish the names)

    Is there no way back from a suspension?
    Successful case

    "As they wait for justice, perhaps both doctors will gain encouragement from the success of Mr ????, a gastroenterological and laparoscopic surgeon who won a high-profile court battle with his chief executive at Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry. Mr ???? found his career was severely threatened after he blew the whistle on high surgical mortality rates among a colleague's patients.

    He was suspended in September 1999, but a disciplinary panel ruled seven months later that his dismissal would be wholly unjustified. However, the trust refused to reinstate the surgeon, this time stating that he had shown a lack of confidence in the chief executive.

    The lengthy case was aired in the House of Commons and the High Court, and Mr??? was supported by an 8,000-strong petition and a vote of confidence from 99 consultants. The affair culminated in a highly publicised Appeal Court hearing in June 2001, in which judges upheld the recommendation for reinstatement and severely criticised the trust's management.

    Mr ???? received a hero's welcome when he returned to his job in July 2001. The chief executive stood down in March 2002 after a long campaign to oust him over the debacle.

    Throughout his suspension, Mr???? great fear was that his case would be timed out by his rapidly approaching retirement date.

    He says: 'I was due to retire in October 2002. All along I was worried that the case would be strung out and I would retire while still suspended. Fortunately, I was back in my job for 18 months before the date came up."

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