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Northern Ireland regulator calls for NHS staff whistleblowing helpline

The RCN in Northern Ireland has welcomed calls for a confidential helpline to be set up for nurses and other health and social care staff to raise concerns.
Whistleblower helpline

The RCN in Northern Ireland has welcomed calls for a whistleblowing helpline to be set up for nurses and other health and social care staff to raise concerns

A whistleblowing review by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) said an independent, confidential helpline would give staff the confidence to report patient safety and malpractice concerns.

It follows a survey of more than 3,000 staff at health and social care organisations in Northern Ireland which identified concerns with how these issues were handled.

RQIA chief executive Olive Macleod said organisations should not assume a low level of reported concerns was positive but should 'test the silence' to see how their policies stood up.

'An open and honest reporting culture gives staff the confidence to bring forward any concerns,

The RCN in Northern Ireland has welcomed calls for a whistleblowing helpline to be set up for nurses and other health and social care staff to raise concerns

A whistleblowing review by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) said an independent, confidential helpline would give staff the confidence to report patient safety and malpractice concerns.

Whistleblower helpline
RQIA wants NHS staff to have a confidential and independent whistleblowing helpline.
Picture: iStock

It follows a survey of more than 3,000 staff at health and social care organisations in Northern Ireland which identified concerns with how these issues were handled.

RQIA chief executive Olive Macleod said organisations should not assume a low level of reported concerns was positive but should 'test the silence' to see how their policies stood up.

'An open and honest reporting culture gives staff the confidence to bring forward any concerns, without fear, in the knowledge that genuine concerns will be treated seriously,' she said.

Robust investigation

A survey of staff at health and social care organisations by RQIA found although 82.9% of the 3,085 respondents were aware their organisation had a whistleblowing policy, only 55.4% had confidence their employer would carry out a robust investigation.

Focus groups held as part of the review found that nurses were more confident than other staff groups in raising concerns, due to pushes towards more honest and open cultures in their teams.

Yet just one individual out of the 368 people who took part in the focus groups had received any whistleblowing training, which was provided by the RCN, rather than in-house.

A helpline in Northern Ireland would follow a similar service set up in England and Wales in 2011, and a helpline in established in Scotland in 2013. 

RCN welcomes recommendation

The RCN advises nurses to raise a concern as soon as it arises rather than to wait for a problem to develop and to keep a written record of action taken.

RCN Northern Ireland director Janice Smyth said: 'We welcome the RQIA’s work and the recommendation that an independent helpline should be provided for health and social care staff.

'However we need to acknowledge that nurses are being asked to provide care for patients in hospital wards accommodating extra beds, for a growing number of patients in the community and patients attending emergency departments.

'The nursing workforce is struggling to cope in a situation where workload by far exceeds the capacity to provide an acceptable standard of nursing care. This compromises the ability to provide safe, effective and dignified care to patients and these issues must be addressed.'


Further information

RQIA review of the operation of health and social care whistleblowing arrangements, September 2016

Raising concerns: guidance for RCN members

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