Monitor has announced that it will publish plans for a national whistleblowing policy.
The health regulator will insist on every organisation within the NHS adopting this new policy.
This singular whistleblowing policy, that will thus operate across the NHS, has been drawn up by a collaboration of three organisations.
Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority and NHS England drafted the policy co-operatively as a result of the Freedom to Speak Up review published earlier this year by Sir Robert Francis QC.
The proposed policy provides a guideline for health professionals with regard to whistleblowing action in the future.
In particular, there are provisions contained within the legislation to ensure that bullying or acting against a whistleblower is an act liable for disciplinary action.
A key aspect of the policy reads thus:
“Don’t wait for proof. We would like you to raise the matter while it is still a concern. It doesn’t matter if you turn out to be mistaken as long as you are genuinely troubled. If you raise a genuine concern under this policy, you will not be at risk of losing your job or suffering any form of reprisal as a result. We will not tolerate the harassment or victimisation of anyone raising a concern.”
The policy continues:
“Nor will we tolerate any attempt to bully you into not raising any such concern. Any such behaviour is a breach of our values as an organisation and, if upheld following investigation, could result in disciplinary action.”
The intention behind that policy is to ensure that individuals can feel comfortable in coming forward to legitimately reveal inside information about the health service.
Anyone acting in good faith can therefore be confident that they will not be punished.
On the other hand, malicious rumours are not to be encouraged, and this is also outlined explicitly in the policy.
Monitor revealed in the document that it has consulted with numerous organisations in order to produce this critical policy.
“Having listened to organisations representing whistleblowers and employers, we believe this policy expresses the spirit and intent of the Freedom to Speak Up vision. Our intention is that the policy should be adopted by all NHS organisations in England except for primary care providers. We hope it will also be adopted by independent providers of NHS healthcare,” it is stated in the document.
Meanwhile, a consultation process is currently taking place ahead of the finalisation of the document.
This will be included on 8th January, but a provisional version of the document will be published in the next 24 hours.
Commenting on the policy, Dr Kathy McLean, medical director at the NHS Trust Development Authority, emphasised its importance.
“We know that when trusts take concerns seriously and investigate them properly they are often the ones which provide the best standard of care and treatment to patients. It is hugely important that trust boards are able to listen to what their staff have got to say and then use that to take action to deliver improvements for patients. This policy should help them do just that.”
As part of its remit to improve safety in the NHS through the delivery of its education and training work, Health Education England (HEE) has produced a film to help staff in raising concerns over patient safety.
The film, produced under the auspices of the Commission on Education and Training for Patient Safety chaired by Professor Sir Norman Williams and Sir Keith Pearson, will provide support for staff at all levels, addressing not only the importance of raising concerns but how to do it whilst providing further information on speaking out when patient safety is at risk.
The film, formally launched today at the Royal College of Nursing, will also be used in response to Robert Francis’s review into whistleblowing in the NHS which recommended that every NHS staff member receives robust training in how to raise concerns about the way patients are being treated.
Professor Ian Cumming, HEE chief executive, said: “High-quality education and training is the basis of high quality, safe and effective patient care. Patient safety should be the number one concern of all who serve patients in the NHS; the first and most important lesson they learn.
“We would hope that employers, universities, trainers and others use this film to raise awareness in staff, stimulate discussion about best practice and to ensure that all students, trainees and staff are aware of the importance of their responsibility to raise concerns when they see patients at risk. Patient safety is everybody’s business.”
The Secretary of State for Health, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, has sent a message to all NHS staff concerning the issues of cultural change and whistleblowing.
Mr Hunt’s message falls on the same day as the publication of the Freedom to Speak Up report by Sir Robert Francis QC.
The Secretary of State’s full statement is as follows:
“Two years ago, Sir Robert Francis published his public inquiry report on the failures of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. His findings shook the NHS to its core, and I made it my priority as Health Secretary to work hand-in-glove with all of you to ensure that such an unspeakable tragedy could never occur in our NHS again.
“As a result of your energy, passion and commitment, the NHS is turning a corner. Today I am publishing a report entitled Culture Change in the NHS which outlines the work that has been done to implement Sir Robert’s recommendations over the last couple of years.
“We have a new rigorous inspection regime, a robust special measures regime to help struggling hospitals get back on their feet, new Fundamental Standards, and a Duty of Candour. And, with your help, two-thirds of hospitals have implemented the ‘name above the bed initiative’ and over 200 NHS organisations are participating in the ‘Sign up to Safety’ campaign.
“But despite this encouraging progress we cannot be complacent. I have heard many stories of NHS staff who don’t feel that they are able to speak up about poor care, or who have been treated badly when they do.
“This is why I asked Sir Robert to carry out a follow-up review for us, and to provide recommendations on what more we can do to create an open and honest culture in the NHS, in which staff feel supported to speak out. Sir Robert has published his report today: Freedom to Speak Up. We have all been shocked at the nature and extent of what he has revealed, and I want to let you know in the strongest terms that I am totally determined to make sure we stamp out the unacceptable bullying, intimidation and victimisation which he describes.
“I have accepted all of Sir Robert’s recommendations in principle and will consult on a package of measures to implement them. I am hopeful that we can legislate in this Parliament to protect whistleblowers who are applying for NHS jobs from discrimination by prospective employers.
“And we will be consulting on establishing a new independent National Whistleblowing Guardian within the CQC, as well as asking every NHS organisation to identify one member of staff to whom others can speak if they have concerns that they are not being listened to.
“The NHS is one of the safest and best healthcare organisations in the world. But that excellence depends on honesty when we get things wrong. We can be optimistic that if we get this right we will be the first healthcare system anywhere to adopt the levels of openness and transparency common in other industries like the airline or nuclear industries. I want nothing less, which is why it is so important to make you feel supported if you have concerns about poor care.”
NHS whistleblowers who highlight poor standards of care are being ignored, bullied or even intimated, according to an independent review published today.
The review – ‘Freedom to speak up?’ was conducted by Sir Robert Francis QC, who led two major inquiries into failures at Mid Staffordshire NHS foundation trust. Its aim is to create an open and honest reporting culture in the NHS.
Undertaken during August and September 2014, the government commissioned review found “shocking” examples of health workers being afraid to blow the whistle about poor patient care and safety failures in the NHS.
The review provides independent advice and recommendations designed to make it easier for workers to raise concerns in the public interest and pave the way to establishing an open culture to improve the quality and safety of patient care:
Key recommendations include: (i) appropriate action should be taken when concerns are raised by NHS workers; (ii) where NHS whistleblowers are mistreated, those mistreating them will be held to account; (iii) the review will consider independent mediation and appeal mechanisms to resolve disputes on whistleblowing fairly; and (iv) the review will engage closely with individual NHS workers who say they have suffered detriment as a result of raising legitimate concerns, as well as with employers, trade unions, professional and system regulators and professional representative bodies.
“Staff who are not supported can suffer hugely,” said Mr Francis. “I’ve heard some frankly shocking stories about staff whose health has suffered, and in rare cases who’ve felt suicidal as a result of their perception of them being ignored or worse.”
Mr Francis has confirmed that the review had received stories and experiences from more than 600 people and that around 19,000 had got in touch via an online survey.
More information can be found at: www.freedomtospeakup.org.uk