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December theme: Whistleblowing

Events such as those experienced in the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust and the Baby P affair, and the resulting public enquiry, have caused the Secretary of State for Health to announce a range of measures to ‘build upon, and give extra authority to’, the current safeguards for whistleblowers in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA), which include amendments to the NHS Constitution.

The PIDA is part of wider employment rights legislation, providing legal protection against detriment in the work place to all workers (except volunteers) in England and Wales. Whistle blowing is when a person makes a disclosure in the public interest. If a person believes there is wrongdoing in their workplace they can report this by following the correct process as laid down in their company’s policies and procedures. Part of this process should ensure that their employment rights are protected. Whistleblowers are protected for public interest to encourage people to speak out if they find malpractice in their workplace i.e. improper, illegal or negligent behaviour by anyone in their work environment. 

Often, concerns about what is happening at work are easily resolved through the use of the most up-to-date policies and procedures to ensure the quality of service offered is maintained and the chances of staff making incorrect decisions, that may compromise staff or patient safety, will be reduced.

It can, however, be more difficult to know what to do when concerns involve more serious issues such as:

• Unlawful conduct
• Financial malpractice
• Breaches of codes of conduct
• Ill-treatment of patients/clients
• Abuse to clients
• Disregard of health and safety rules
• Dangers to the public or the environment

The Public Concern at Work (PCaW) charity is the independent authority on public interest whistleblowing. They were established in 1993 following a series of scandals and disasters.  PCaW has played a leading role in putting whistleblowing on the governance agenda and in developing legislation in the UK and abroad. In April 2008 they won a competitive tender to provide advice to all NHS staff and whistleblowing policy support across the NHS.

For years staff within the NHS have been too scared to raise concerns, fearing for their jobs, which have allowed scandals such as Mid Staffs, Baby P and Harold Shipman to go unchecked. Recognising this as a barrier to excellent care the Department of Health went out to tender, seeking an organisation to provide whistleblowing support across the length and breadth of the NHS. Due to the support provided by PCaW every member of staff working within the NHS should feel confident enough to raise any concerns and should be fully conversant with the correct channels to take.

The PCaW have recently published their findings from research undertaken about ‘what the whistleblowers say’. Cathy James, Acting Director of Public Concern at Work said, “Our research demonstrates there are systemic deficiencies that prevent care workers from speaking up effectively to protect vulnerable adults......” Since the charity was established in 1993 they have received 19,000 calls of which 7994 had a Whistleblowing concern.

NHS Constitution
NHS Whitepaper ‘Equality and excellence liberating the NHS’
1991 European Commission Code ‘Protection of Men and Women at Work’

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