Key health unions have welcomed the recommendations on whistleblowing made today by Sir Robert Francis, but with caveats that any resulting measures must not be seen as “tick-box” exercises by managers.
Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea described the findings of the Freedom to Speak Up review as “damning but sadly not surprising”.
“Changing the culture and moving towards a no-blame environment cannot be achieved by ticking a box”
The union leader, who is also curently head of the staff-side council, warned that whistleblowing policies could only be effective if concerns were taken seriously and investigated.
“Raising concerns should never cost workers their jobs or their health,” she said. “It is wrong that health workers are being persecuted, ostracised and left to suffer in silence after they’ve spoken out.”
“Training health workers to report concerns and be confident in doing so is vital if we want our NHS to continue to deliver quality care. But changing the culture and moving towards a no-blame environment cannot be achieved by ticking a box,” added Ms McAnea.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing described the review as “timely and realistic” and welcomed its recommendations.
“The measures outlined in Sir Robert’s review will create the conditions for staff to be able to speak out effectively”
Peter Carter, the college’s chief executive and general secretary, said the review’s findings were “borne out by what RCN members have been telling us for a number of years”.
“There has been too much inconsistency and unfairness in the treatment of staff who have raised concerns and this comprehensive package of measures will go a long way towards redressing these issues,” he said.
“The measures outlined in Sir Robert’s review will create the conditions for staff to be able to speak out effectively and need implementation,” he said. “Visible and supportive leadership, at all levels, as well as the right training are vital in allowing staff to be valued and able to raise concerns without fear of retribution.
He added: “The vulnerable groups identified, like our student nurses who contributed to this review and who talked candidly and openly to Sir Robert about their experiences of raising concerns in the current culture, will be reassured that he has responded to their issues and taken them into account.”
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said the review report “appeared to contain sensible recommendations that we would support”.
“For too long and too often midwives and other NHS staff have faced opposition, harassment and bullying when they have tried to raise legitimate concerns about patient safety and standards of care,” she said. “This must stop.”