A government-funded helpline has been launched by a national charity to help healthcare workers and other frontline staff whistleblow about child safeguarding failures.
The service will provide an additional route to raising concerns about child abuse, particularly for workers who feel their employers have not dealt with their complaint effectively, according to ministers.
“This fills a gap that was identified through the reports into Rotherham that showed there were professionals…who didn’t feel their concerns were being acted on”
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) will run the free helpline, which has been established in the wake of the Rotherham child abuse scandal.
It has been set up on behalf of the Home Office with £500,000 of government funding.
Karen Bradley, minister for preventing abuse, exploitation and crime, stressed it would not replace existing ways in which staff were already able to speak out and would be “complementary” to other helplines run by organisations, such as the Care Quality Commission.
“This fills a gap that was identified through the reports into Rotherham that showed there were professionals working with children or aware of child protection issues who didn’t feel their concerns were being acted on and felt management were not taking their concerns as seriously as they wanted them to,” she told Nursing Times.
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“For nurses, a child could have come to them, maybe through A&E, and they have told a senior manager or social services but they don’t think it’s being acted upon. So this [helpline] is a place they can go to say ‘I think this needs to be escalated and looked into’,” added Ms Bradley.
The helpline will be open Monday to Friday, and will allow workers to raise their concerns anonymously.
Nurses and other workers who speak out via the NSPCC will have legal protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.
The NSPCC became a “prescribed body” last year, which means anyone raising a concern through this route who then receives detrimental treatment from an employer would be able to take a case to an employment tribunal.
John Cameron, head of NSPCC’s child protection operations, told Nursing Times the new helpline will offer advice about how to raise concerns with an employer or through external agencies.
He said the charity will also pass on information about serious failures to the police or external bodies – about both known and suspected cases of abuse, or systems that fail to safeguard from potential abuse.
“Sometimes employees can be uncertain whether or not there is a particular action or behaviour that they ought to be worried about, which is why we are calling this an advice line”
“If in your place of employment there are safeguarding practices that are worrying you – it may be about an individual, it may be about an organisational protocol, a procedure, or indeed just a culture – and you feel you can’t raise that or you have tried to and you feel you’re not being listened to, then you can come through to us,” he said.
He acknowledged the anonymity offered by the helpline may not be able to prevent whistleblowers from being identified by employers, but highlighted the legal protection that would apply to those using the service.
“We understand the realities of being identified, so the added benefit is of coming to a prescribed body. Yes there is a risk, but it’s important that everybody who works with children that are being looked after – they have a responsibility to speak out and take action,” he said.
Mr Cameron said he recognised that junior healthcare staff in particular found it difficult to challenge senior members of the team.
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He said it was also difficult for some staff members to know whether or not their concerns warranted taking action.
“We also appreciate sometimes employees can be uncertain whether or not there is a particular action or behaviour that they ought to be worried about, which is why we are calling this an advice line, not just a whistleblowing line,” he added.
The NSPCC will help the government to identify trends about the number or types of child abuse concerns being raised in certain geographical areas, or by particular professions and roles.
Mr Cameron said the charity would in addition work with those in leading whistleblowing roles – such as the recently appointed national whistleblowing guardian for the NHS in England – to share information.