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Trial scheme launched to support hospital whistleblowers back to work in NHS

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A pilot support scheme for NHS staff that have previously blown the whistle on care concerns has been launched to help them return to employment in hospital settings in England.

The small pilot will pave the way for the full Whistleblowers’ Support Scheme for Secondary Care, which will see current staff and former staff receive support to continue to work or return to the NHS.

“We are committed to ensuring that NHS staff who raise legitimate concerns are able to do so safely”

Steve Russell

It forms part of the regulator NHS Improvement’s response to the Freedom to Speak Up review, which was carried out by Sir Robert Francis and published in 2015. It noted that whistleblowers became “isolated, and disadvantaged” in trying to obtain alternative employment.

A proposal document stated: “The key aim of this scheme is to support NHS staff and former NHS staff who are having difficulty finding employment as a result of raising concerns about safety, risk, malpractice or wrongdoing at work which they thought was harming services in secondary care providers.”

It will include training and work experience for healthcare professionals who have been away from the workplace for a long period of time, and advice and assistance on job applications for relevant NHS employment.

In addition, the scheme will see the creation of a pool of NHS employers prepared to offer a range of support to applicants on the scheme, including trial employment or work experience, and new guidance for employers encouraging them to help them support whistleblowers to return to NHS employment.

Regarding the final version of the programme, the proposal document noted: “We do not currently know the number of people who may wish to join the scheme in secondary care, although it may be quite high.”

But NHS Improvement said the pilot phase of the scheme would be set up with a “small cohort of around 10 individuals”, who were currently unemployed. Relevant individuals who have previously worked in a secondary care organisation will be “invited to express an interest” in taking part, it said.

Those wanting to join the pilot scheme have been asked to submit an expression of interest by 4 October 2017 with a full application by 31 October.  

Meanwhile, the proposals document said service providers offering placements under the scheme would need to ensure they comply with all relevant employment laws and their own policies and processes.

However, whether or not pilot scheme participants would be paid for work experience or trial employment was down to whether the provider involved “can fund this”, said the document, though it noted basic travel expenses may be paid in accordance with NHS Improvement expenses policy.

It added: “We are currently considering what support can be offered to clinicians and professionals to manage maintenance of their professional status, for example revalidation.”

The development of the pilot involved input from former NHS whistleblowers and follows the recent launch of the NHS England whistleblower scheme for staff working in primary care.

NHS Improvement said it would work with HR directors in foundation trusts and NHS trusts, as well as the organisations NHS Employers and NHS Providers, to develop the scheme guidance further.

Once the pilot scheme has concluded, NHS Improvement said it would undertake a formal evaluation of the project, before developing the full scheme.

A spokeswoman for NHS Improvement told Nursing Times that the pilot process was expected to last around six months.

Steve Russell, an executive managing director at NHS Improvement said: “We are committed to ensuring that NHS staff who raise legitimate concerns are able to do so safely, with the knowledge that they will be supported to continue within the NHS and their chosen career.

“This pilot programme has been co-designed with staff members who have previously been whistleblowers themselves, with the aim of helping highly skilled staff return to the NHS and continuing contributing positively to patient care,” he said.

He added: “The scheme will also work with NHS trusts and foundation trusts to help them provide support to staff who raise concerns, to ensure that all organisations provide a culture of continuous learning and improvement.”

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