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New national role to support NHS whistleblowers in Scotland

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NHS whistleblowers working in Scotland who are not satisfied with internal investigations will soon be able to enlist the help of an independent official at a national level, ministers have announced.

The government said legislation would be introduced next year to bring in the new independent national whistleblowing officer (INWO) role, which will have powers to help staff with concerns.

“All NHS staff should have the confidence to speak up without fear”

Shona Robison

The INWO will also examine health boards’ culture and approach to whistleblowing – particularly where a whistleblower claims to have been unfairly treated as a result of raising a concern.

The role will fall under the auspices of the existing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, which is independent from both the Scottish government and health boards, with a duty to act impartially.

The INWO is part of a package of measures including an independent confidential alert and advice line, named whistleblowing contacts in every health board, and local “whistleblowing champions”.

They represent the Scottish government’s response to the Freedom to Speak Up Review, chaired by Sir Robert Francis and published in February 2015.

While the report and its recommendations related to England, ministers in Scotland welcomed the review and considered its findings to “further support, encourage and promote whistleblowing”.

Scottish health secretary Shona Robison said: “All NHS staff should have the confidence to speak up without fear, and in the knowledge their concerns will be treated seriously and investigated properly.

“The independent national whistleblowing officer will give staff the ability to access an independent, external body who can review their case and bring it to a clear, final and fair conclusion,” she said.


Shona Robison

Shona Robison

“As Scotland’s independent and impartial watchdog, the ombudsman is well-placed to provide that safeguard,” she said. “It will mean cases are dealt with in a way that provides the very highest levels of reassurance for staff.”

Rosemary Agnew, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, added: “It is important to me that any challenge to the way in which public services are delivered is listened to, properly considered and results in both resolution and appropriate, proportionate improvement.

“Giving us the role of INWO for the NHS in Scotland brings whistleblowing complaints in line with service complaints, providing an independent final consideration of the way in which a matter is investigated and responded to,” she said.

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