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Francis: NHS could bring in whistleblowing proposals 'from tomorrow'

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Most measures recommended by a major review that aims to “normalise” whistleblowing could be introduced by trusts immediately, the chair of the independent inquiry has said.

Sir Robert Francis QC said the majority of suggestions he has made in his Freedom to Speak Up Review report, which focus on good practice, could be implemented “from tomorrow”.

Speaking at the launch of the report today, he said trusts could immediately remove their whistleblowing policy from the human resources department and  instead combine it with the same system for incident reporting to help make it a normal part of routine.

“Many of the steps I recommend are what good organisations are doing already”

Robert Francis

Employers could also schedule sessions for reflective practice – on raising concerns – by using time during mortality and morbidity meetings straight aways, he said.

Trusts could also immediately appoint a named officer – referred to as a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian in the review – for supporting and advising whistle-blowers, added Sir Robert.

He said the “vast majority” of recommendations in the report were measures that had been introduced at some trusts already.

However, he acknowledged that some changes – such as suggested reforms to discrimination legislation and the appointment of a “national independent officer” which would review cases in which whistleblowers have suffered harm – would take longer to come into effect.

“We need a coordinated approach from commissioners, oversight bodies, regulators and employers that promotes the right culture and ensures accountability for any  mistreatment of staff raising concerns,” he said.

He added: “Many of the steps I recommend are what good organisations are doing already.

“If these things are achieved throughout the NHS it will be better place to work and most importantly it would be a safer place for patients, a place where avoidable harm is much less likely to occur.”

When questioned whether his review would help to address historic cases of whistleblowers being treated badly, Sir Robert said that “none of my recommendations will get rid of disputes”.

“There will always be cases which are difficult to resolve,” he said, adding: “Unfortunately the legal processes we have at the moment are complex…and occur too late in the day.”

In his review, he recommended that legal protection for whistleblowers should be extended and that discrimination during the recruitment process on the grounds that someone has raised concerns should be made a breach of either the Employment Rights Act 1996 or the Equality Act 2010.

Similarly, Sir Robert noted that it would not be possible to “stop the whispers” surrounding someone who speaks up, which might mean they do not go as far in their careers.

However, he said it should be possible in a “good system” for there to be evidence proving if someone was right to raise concerns and whether action was taken.

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