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Time to address whistleblowing concerns across the NHS

Time to address whistleblowing concerns across the NHS

How can processes for whistleblowing be improved within healthcare? Here we hear from a confidential whistleblowing hotline provider on steps that can be taken.

We’ve heard a lot about the Lucy Letby trial – now to be followed by an inquiry – which suggested there are some serious problems with how the NHS handles whistleblowing.

It’s clear we need to make some changes to build a culture of transparency, accountability and trust.

Whistleblowers within the NHS have often felt scared to speak up, fearing backlash and unfair treatment. But things are changing, and more employees are coming forward – over 25,000 of them last year. The most common reports were of inappropriate behaviours and attitudes (30%), followed by worker safety and wellbeing (27%) and bullying and harassment (22%).

These people deserve our support, and it highlights the need to review and revamp the whistleblowing process.

Reports tell us that many NHS employees lack confidence in the current speak-up system. They’re afraid of being labelled troublemakers when they raise concerns. This not only discourages speaking up but also makes it harder for the NHS to address issues, potentially putting patients and staff at risk, not to mention harming the NHS’s reputation.

For a whistleblowing system to work, employees need to know their concerns will be taken seriously and handled properly.

Unfortunately, the recent Lucy Letby case is the most extreme example of that not happening, with Dr Stephen Brearey stating that if hospital executives had acted on concerns about nurse Lucy Letby earlier, lives may have been saved.

What can we do about it? Well, we’ve got to rebuild trust, root out wrongdoing, and protect those who report concerns. Here are some key steps:

  • Review and improve: We need to take a close look at the NHS’s whistleblowing policies, processes, and operations to find out where trust is breaking down. Those responsible for retaliating against whistleblowers must be held accountable.
  • Training is key: Education is power. By providing both employees and managers with whistleblowing training, we can demystify the process. When employees know how to raise concerns and understand their legal protections under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA), they’re more likely to speak up without fear.
  • Alternative reporting: While the Freedom to Speak Up (FTSU) Guardian scheme is a step in the right direction, some remain sceptical about internal reporting systems. To build trust, the NHS can consider offering an alternative means of disclosure, such as a dedicated, outsourced whistleblowing hotline provider, ensuring true anonymity and independence in the reporting process. Employees are much more confident speaking to, and reporting through, a third party.
  • Fair investigations: The investigation process should be fair and impartial, never undermining the concerns of whistleblowers. Outsourcing investigations or ensuring internal investigators receive proper training can protect employees and the NHS’s reputation.

It’s crucial for the NHS to stand up for whistleblowers and foster a culture of openness and accountability. No healthcare professional should face harm for speaking out about something that could affect patient safety. To achieve this, we need to review our systems, provide thorough training, and establish trustworthy reporting channels.

Confidentiality, impartiality, and independence must be our guiding principles when receiving and investigating concerns. These changes should be ongoing to create a lasting transformation within the NHS.

Addressing whistleblowing concerns in the NHS is vital to promote a culture of transparency and accountability. By taking proactive steps, such as policy reviews, training, and independent investigations, we can create an environment where employees feel safe and valued when reporting wrongdoing.

This not only strengthens the NHS from within but also underscores its commitment to patient care and bolsters its reputation as a healthcare provider we can all trust.

Chancelle Blakey is business development manager at Safecall, an outsourced whistleblowing hotline provider supporting organisations to tackle whistleblowing issues including potential racism, sexism, fraud, discrimination, bribery, health and safety violations, modern slavery, bullying, and violence in the workplace.

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