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Practices must support 'whistleblowers'

Practices will need to pledge support to staff who raise concerns about poor patient care under changes to the NHS Constitution, the government has announced.

The government wants to ensure health staff who raise concerns about poor patient care are protected in the future.

All NHS organisations will need to ensure staff concerns are fully investigated and that there is someone independent, outside of their team, to speak to.

Changes to the constitution, to be made in early 2012, will also make it clear that it is the duty of all NHS workers to report bad practice or any mistreatment of patients receiving care from the health service.

The amendments follow a public consultation on whistleblowing and the NHS Constitution.

The constitution will include the "expectation" that staff should raise concerns at the earliest opportunity.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "The first lines of defence against bad practice are the doctors and nurses doing their best to care for patients.

"They need to know that they have a responsibility to their patients to raise concerns if they see risks to patient safety. And when they do, they should be reassured that the government stands full square behind them."

Cathy James, Chief Executive of UK whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work, said: "This is a step in the right direction and seems to be a genuine attempt to strike the right balance between supporting individuals who speak up and the responsibilities of organisations.

"If this positive message is to be felt by those on the frontline, organisations need to take this seriously."

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"These proposed changes to the NHS Constitution should help to influence a more open culture towards patient safety.   Health professionals already have their professional codes of conduct regarding ‘doing the patient no harm'. However, we also work in an NHS in which Trusts are expected to meet targets, for example waiting times, above all other aspects of
patient care. Poor nursing care has been at the heart of several reports, and nurses have been vocal in their concerns about failings by some of our profession. One such excellent article was by Marilyn Eveleigh, Consultant Editor , NIP, issue number 59, March/April 2011 ‘Neglect of older people: are nurses to blame?'  She challenged all nurses to review the dynamics and capability of their team, to challenge uncaring attitudes, and to see things from the perspective of the patients. To do this we need nursing leaders who feel able to speak up without reprisal from their employers.  The first recommendation  in the Prime
Ministers' Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery in England, 2010, was for nurses “….to renew their pledge to tackle unacceptable variations in standards and deliver high quality compassionate care”. The proposed changes to the NHS Constitution may just help them to do that" - Catherine Gleeson, West Yorkshire