The Chief Executive of NHS Scotland has admitted that procedures related to whistleblowing in the NHS are far from perfect.
Paul Gray indicated that health workers in possession of information on unsafe practices are reluctant to blow the whistle for fear of being victimised during working hours.
The chief executive also suggested that some staff are unwilling to raise such issues because they are sceptical about the prospect for real change within the NHS.
But Gray suggested that whistleblowers should indeed have the confidence to come forward with genuine concerns, and that this is essential to the future of the health service.
Gray assured healthcare workers intending to blow the whistle on inappropriate practices that they “will be listened to and your concerns will be investigated. And you should tell me if they are not.”
NHS Scotland staff can currently raise concerns about patient safety and malpractice through a confidential whistleblowing hotline.
Alert Line has been active for three years and is overseen by Public Concern at Work; an independent whistleblowing charity.
But Gray, who also acts as the Scottish government’s director of general health and social care, indicated his belief that many whistleblowers still feel intimidated by the potential consequences of such actions, and thus more must be done to encourage a climate of transparency.
“When I meet staff and trade union representatives, I ask them about their concerns. The answers are interesting, and varied. Some say that they don’t think that there would be any point – nothing would happen if they raised a concern. Some say that they fear that there could be consequences for them – perhaps in terms of their career, or a fear of being victimised. And others say that they have raised concerns in the past, and nothing happened – or if it did, nobody gave them any feedback. That tells me that there is still something we need to tackle,” Gray suggested.
Whistleblowing has many benefits, but perhaps the most important is that it can ultimately result in a safer and more effective NHS system.
And Gray believes that the whistleblowing process must be improved if the NHS is to reach its full potential in Scotland.
“There’s absolutely no room for complacency here. That’s why I will continue to champion a culture where genuine whistleblowers are encouraged, supported and valued in NHS Scotland.”
Gray also revealed further details about the role of an Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INO), planned by the Scottish government.
The chief executive believes that this new position, instigated following a consultation published earlier this year, can play a significant role in improving whistleblowing provisions in Scotland.
“The INO will provide external review where individuals have a legitimate concern about the handling of a whistleblowng case and is a further step in developing an open and transparent reporting culture in NHS Scotland. The INO will complement a range of policies and procedures already agreed and in place to support and encourage staff to raise concerns.”