National whistleblowing policy launched by Monitor, NHS England and NHS TDA

National Health Executive 16 November 2015:  ‘First-ever whistleblowing policy will protect staff and guarantee probes’

 Whistleblowing staff in the NHS will get more support under the first national policy drawn up by Monitor, NHS England and the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA).

The policy, unveiled today (16 November), wants to improve the working environment for staff across the health sector by supporting them in raising concerns about poor-quality care – and improving how services learn from them.

All NHS organisations except primary care providers will have to adopt the proposals. The policy details who can raise concerns, how they should go about doing so, how the concern will be investigated and what will be done with these findings.

The three NHS bodies intend that organisations also have their own local process that sits beneath the national policy, reflecting their own size and setup. But provided the local process adheres to requirements set out in the overarching national policy, there is “room for flexibility” locally.

It also furthers a commitment to listen to staff, learn lessons from mistakes and properly investigate concerns as they are reported.

Tom Grimes, Monitor’s head of enquiries, complaints and whistleblowing, said: “We want to encourage a culture where raising concerns becomes normal practice in the NHS and foster an environment where concerns are taken seriously and investigated properly.

“We will support the NHS to improve services for patients and a key part of that is listening to its staff and learning lessons. But this will need commitment throughout NHS organisations, from members of the board to those working in frontline services.”

According to NHS England’s director of patient safety, Dr Mike Durkin, any member of the NHS workforce should now feel comfortable in speaking out without fear of reprisal if they witness something that could threaten patient safety.

The policy will also give staff the confidence they need in knowing that concerns are acted on, encouraging them to make improvements themselves.

“A safe NHS is an open and honest NHS where we routinely learn from mistakes and use that learning to improve patient safety. If we are to truly put our patients first, we must create a culture where owning up to mistakes and speaking out about poor care is fully encouraged and embraced. This policy should support that,” Durkin added.

A consultation on the policy will now run for eight weeks, after which the three national bodies will update the proposal with feedback and publish the final policy.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “Employers across the NHS will welcome the opportunity to comment on this consultation to ensure we get the right outcome for staff and patients. Ensuring NHS staff feel confident and safe to raise concerns with their employer is a high priority across the NHS. Having clear policies and protocols is important, however, employers recognise that it is essential that this is matched with how issues are received, handled and feedback given.

“We need to ensure we do not lose this local engagement and ownership if we are to make progress. We will be working with employers and our network to inform a response to the consultation and we will be encouraging individual organisations to respond directly also.”

The policy was influenced by findings from the Francis Report, published after an inquiry into staff fears of speaking up about safety failures due to potential punishment or service inertia.

Before the election, health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised to look into creating “whistleblowing guardians” to protect staff.

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