Independence of whistleblowers must be assured, say unions

Unions say freedom to speak up guardians’ ability to voice concerns in primary care is compromised  

Steps must be taken to ensure the independence of whistleblowers, say healthcare unions. 

RCN and Unite were responding to a consultation by NHS England on its draft guidance for staff who raise concerns about workplace issues in primary care.

The Freedom to Speak Up in Primary Care draft guidance, published last month, acknowledged that healthcare professionals who work for small providers can find it difficult to raise concerns confidentially or anonymously, and feel there is a greater risk to their jobs if they do so.

The draft guidance says all primary care providers should have an individual who can act as a freedom to speak up guardian who is independent of line management and not the direct employer. This person would be a point of contact and support for staff who raise concerns. 

In its response, the RCN said it supports the guidance, but thought that smaller providers would need support in selecting a guardian.

An RCN spokesperson said: ‘The RCN has previously called for a high-level review of how the funding for these roles is to be achieved, with consideration given to the central funding of local positions, in order to avoid funds being pulled away from front line services.’

To contribute towards wider cultural change, the college said NHS England should continue to focus on issues such as bullying, harassment and staff wellbeing.

Unite also supports the guardian role but wants a degree of separation between the employer and the guardian. Its national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said: ‘On many occasions it is senior management within organisations who are also part of the problem, and it is difficult to see how the guardian will be able to address this if they too are an employee of the same organisation.’

The NHS England guidance follows Sir Robert Francis’ 2015 Freedom to Speak Up report into NHS whistleblowing which raised examples of staff being bullied and not receiving the support they needed when they raised concerns. 

To read Freedom to Speak Up in Primary Care draft guidance click here