Protection for NHS whistleblowers will be enshrined in the NHS constitution from next year, health secretary Andrew Lansley has announced.
The decision follows a public consultation and last week’s Care Quality Commission report that exposed many instances of staff neglecting patients’ basic needs.
The changes to the NHS constitution will add:
A pledge that NHS organisations should support whistleblowers by ensuring their concerns are fully investigated and that there is someone independent, outside of their team, to speak to;
An expectation that staff should raise concerns at the earliest opportunity;
Clarity around the existing legal right for staff to raise concerns about safety, malpractice or other wrong doing without suffering any detriment.
Announcing the changes, Mr Lansley said: “We are determined to root out the problems in the NHS. That is why I requested a series of unannounced hospital inspections by the CQC. Its latest reports showed there are long standing problems and we now want to do all we can to tackle them.”
The public consultation provoked an “overwhelmingly positive response” to proposals to amend the NHS constitution in this way, according to the Department of Health.
However, the DH’s full response to the consultation also says some respondents felt that constitutional changes would be insufficient without a “broader strategy to foster greater openness”.
It says the DH has already issued whistleblowing guidance to employers and agreed to amend the terms and conditions of NHS staff to include a contractual right and duty to raise concerns.
In addition, it is considering setting up an independent authority to which staff can turn when they feel that their own organisation is not listening or responding appropriately.
Any new measures will be subject to affordability, the report says.
As reported in Nursing Times this week, a nurse who blew the whistle about previous care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust told the public inquiry into events at the trust that she faced bullying and physical threats as a result of her actions.
In addition, research published this month in the Journal of Clinical Nursing warns that whistleblowing can have serious emotional consequences, and that greater support is needed for staff raising concerns.