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: tinyurl.com/cqc-guidance. You can contact the CQC by emailing: email@example.com 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