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Protection for whistleblowers to become constitutional right


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.


Readers' comments (9)

  • And the private sector, education and research?

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  • michael stone

    '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'

    You definitely often need someone/thing independent of the organisation, but I think this should be at local-level, not 'distant' - I also think staff should be able to initially raise their concerns with such an 'independent' group of people, not only turn to it after already raising issues with the organisation. It needs to be local, because appealing to 'distant' bodies (such as the PHSO) slows down (delays) the consideration of the concern, to the point that investigating it often becomes almost impossible to do properly.

    But concerns and complaints come in different shapes and sizes, all need considering, and you need variable mechanisms which can be made to fit the complaint/concern itself: shoe-horning all complaints and concerns into a one-size fits all 'protocol' does not work very well.

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  • Reply to Mike Stone
    There is already PCAW - Public Concern at Work. Maybe people do not use them enough.
    I was a whistleblowing (working in the voluntary sector with local government) in the nineties and again in early 2000 and I used Public Concern at Work who were very supportive and most helpful for me.

    Here is their information.

    Hope this helps and people take note.

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  • Oops the cut and paste did not work.

    020 7404 6609 and website is

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  • I am unclear what difference the addition to the NHS constitution will make unless a breach of the Constitution has consequences for the organisation permitting it. The NHS has had 14 years since the passing of the Public Interest Disclosure Act and almost a decade since the Kennedy Report on Bristol to get its act together but until there (a) are real disciplinmary sanctions for those victimising whistleblowers (b) punitive damages for victimising whistleblowers (c) real openness about which employers victimise whistleblowers the culture wont change.

    I agree Public Concern at Work is an excellent charity.

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  • George Kuchanny

    I was about to post a comment but Roger has covered it all. Effectively we are depending on whistleblowers to drive a culture change without which the NHS will perish. The very real failing is at management (all levels). The Mid Staffs enquiry clearly shows this.

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  • michael stone

    roger kline | 19-Oct-2011 3:37 pm

    George Kuchanny | 19-Oct-2011 3:54 pm

    I am 100% with both of you - the only workable solution for the improvement of bad cultures (ie bad management) is to introduce a combination of transparency and some method of separating the investigation of the concerns, from the person (who would probably be victimised by bad management) who identifies the concerns.

    But the fact that this is obvious, but has not been addressed for decades, isn't promising !

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  • The whole culture of the NHS with its endless layers of managers, will need to change until the layers are much flatter, managers are directly connected to front line staff and services, and they know and are accountable for the quality of the service being provided.
    Frontline staff are powerless in the current culture of blame and numberless ’chiefs’. As has already been said, the present systems just don’t work.
    The unions could work together to try to get the culture changed and be more proactive for whistleblowers, but it seems they are too much a part of the culture.
    People who have contacted speak of mixed experiences of Public Concern at Work, some positive as the above person and some no help at all.
    CAUSE (Campaign Against Unnecessary Suspensions and Exclusions UK) has asked the Department of Health repeatedly through our MPs for suspensions to be notified to them, with vital information such as who is suspended, the reason, length of time it is being dealt with and how. The D o H refuses, presumably because they are worried about the numbers involved and would rather not know. We believe it would flag up management malpractice and malfunctioning. We’ve been in existence for over 8 years now and can see no change at all. And the cruelty and inhuman treatment of staff will continue.
    I do thank the Lord there seem to be many staff and workplaces where these things just don’t happen.
    Julie Fagan, founder member CAUSE

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  • If anyone is interested here is a recent Press Release from Public Concern at work regarding aCourt of Appeal Ruling:-

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