The Conservatives have promised to introduce clauses into the contracts of nurses and other NHS staff allowing them to ‘whistleblow’ anonymously and with guaranteed protection from any disciplinary action.
Unveiling plans to fight what the Conservatives call the ‘closed culture’ in the health service, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley pledged last week to introduce a number of measures to help NHS staff and patients expose failings within services, if his party won the next election.
Staff would be able to raise concerns on a hotline – advertised in trust staffrooms – directly to the new Care Quality Commission, which will replace the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, and the Mental Health Act Commission in April.
Mr Lansley said the preferred route for staff complaints would be internal. But he insisted the anonymous hotline would enable more staff to raise concerns at trusts such as Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which was heavily criticised this month by the Healthcare Commission.
As Nursing Times reported last week, at least one nurse blew the whistle internally over patient safety concerns at the trust but with little apparent effect.
Describing the proposed hotline, Mr Lansley said: ‘Staff will be able to do this confidentially, simply and anonymously if they so wish – knowing that it will not come back to haunt them and that there will be absolute protection from any form of disciplinary action.’
Mr Lansley also said the Conservatives would create a national ‘consumer voice’ for patients called HealthWatch, give local patient involvement networks (LINKs) greater powers of inspection, and publish more information on the outcome of patients’ treatment at individual hospitals.
Julie Fagan, founder of the Campaign Against Unnecessary Suspensions and Exclusions in the NHS, said: ‘We keep reading that nurses should report problems, but there is still a blame culture, and nurses keep getting suspended and dismissed. This could only help.’
But the Department of Health said whistleblowers ‘already have full protection’ under the Public Interest Disclosure Act passed by the Labour government.
‘We expect that any member of staff who reports concerns about the safety or quality of care to be listened to by their managers and action taken to address their concerns,’ said health minister Ben Bradshaw in a statement. ‘The new NHS Constitution includes an explicit right for staff who report wrongdoing to be protected.’