First national whistleblowing policy for England published

National strategy to support whistleblowers wherever they work in the NHS 

Nurses are to be given support to speak out about issues at work through the first national whistleblowing policy for the NHS in England.

The policy, published by NHS England and NHS Improvement, aims to standardise the way NHS organisations support staff who voice concerns.

A national policy was one of a number of recommendations made in February last year by the Freedom to Speak Up independent review on whistleblowing in the NHS led by Sir Robert Francis.

The new document, Freedom to speak up: raising concerns (whistleblowing) policy for the NHS, which was published on April 1 following a public consultation, sets out the process for raising concerns and how these will be investigated.

The policy states that NHS staff should speak up about issues including unsafe patient care and working conditions, inadequate induction or training for staff, suspicions of fraud or bullying. It goes on to advise staff not to wait for proof but to raise the matter once it becomes a concern. It also says staff should not be at risk of losing their job or of reprisals, and that victimisation will not be tolerated.

If a member of staff wants to raise an issue confidentially, their identity will not be disclosed unless required by law, for example by the police.

Each organisation is to appoint its own ‘freedom to speak up guardian’, an independent and impartial source of advice to staff, and any concerns not resolved quickly through line managers should be investigated.

Investigations should be led by someone ‘suitably independent’ in the organisation, and be evidence-based. The reports from these investigations should focus on learning lessons and improving care.

NHS organisations will be expected to adopt the policy and integrate local processes as a minimum standard ‘to help normalise the raising of concerns for the benefit of all patients’.

RCN head of employment relations Josie Irwin, said: ‘A national policy will enable staff to feel that no matter where they are working in the NHS, they will be supported when they raise concerns about patient care.

‘But each organisation must continue to foster their own culture of openness and transparency to make sure that opportunities to learn and improve are never missed.’

Read the policy here