The health secretary has accepted all the recommendations made by the Freedom to Speak Up review “in principle” and said he would be consulting on a package of measures to implement them.
The government-commissioned review, published today, set out 20 principles and an action programme that Sir Robert believes will encourage a more open culture in the NHS that encourages staff to raise concerns.
“The message must go out that we are calling time on bullying, intimidation and victimisation which has no place in our NHS”
Mr Hunt noted that MPs would be “profoundly shocked at the nature and extent of what has been revealed” in Sir Robert’s report. “There are stories of fear, bullying, ostracisation, marginalisation as well as psychological and physical harm,” he said.
“The only way we will build an NHS with the highest standards is if doctors and nurses who have given their lives to patient care always feel listened to if they speak out about patient care,” he stated. “The message must go out today that we are calling time on bullying, intimidation and victimisation which has no place in our NHS.”
The health secretary argued that the government had “already taken some significant steps to protect NHS staff” regarding whistleblowing.
He cited the enshrining of the right to speak up in staff contracts, amending the NHS Constitution, extending the national helpline to social care staff, and making employers legally responsible if whistleblowers were harassed or bullied by colleagues.
However, he acknowledged “there is more to do” and that he supported the ideas set out in the Freedom to Speak Up report.
These include asking every trust to identify one member of staff – known as a “freedom to speak up guardian” – that others could speak to if they have particular concerns and who will report directly to the chief executive.
Mr Hunt highlighted that the idea drew on the inspirational work of Mid Staffordshire nurse whistleblower Helene Donnelly, who has pioneered the role at her current trust.
“We will ensure every member of staff… has proper training on how to raise concerns and how to treat people who raise concerns”
He also said ministers would consult on establishing an independent “national whistleblowing guardian” as a full-time post within the Care Quality Commission to review the most serious cases where concerns were raised about the treatment of whistleblowers.
In addition, he said the government would be legislating to protect former whistleblowers from discrimination when applying for new NHS jobs. “Too often the system has closed ranks against whistleblowers, making it impossible for them to find another job,” said Mr Hunt.
Meanwhile, he said Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority and NHS England had agreed a “compact of action” to help whistleblowers find alternative employment, with “detailed arrangements” due to be published later this year.
“Going forward we will ensure that every member of staff, every NHS manager and every NHS leader has proper training on how to raise concerns and how to treat people who raise concerns,” added Mr Hunt.
He also told MPs that he would be writing to every trust to “underline the importance of a culture where frontline staff feel able to speak up about concerns without fear of the repercussions”.
He ended by saying that a consultation would now take place on the measures set out in the report.
But Mr Hunt stated that “there is no reason” for trusts not to get on with implementing the recommendations “right away, particularly in making sure staff have an independent person they can raise concerns with”.