The new NHS whistleblowing policy is not going to be easy for HR teams to implement and manage. It’s not through lack of commitment by trusts, but enforcing a set of standards fine-tuned to a specific trust, will be a considerable challenge. Ben Western, public sector business development manager, at Software Europe, provides advice on how trusts can navigate the new policy and provide tips for getting started.
The arrival of the national whistleblowing policy shouldn’t be a surprise to trusts. The initial consultation took place in November last year and we’ve already had trusts talk to us about receiving policy support in the last few months. However, forewarned is not always forearmed.
There’s a lot to do and not much time. Existing local policies and procedures, if they exist, will now need urgent review to take into account the new whistleblowing policy.
Some trusts that we speak to don’t actually have an existing whistleblowing policy and others, which are able to demonstrate a policy, lack the tools to effectively manage any cases raised. Excel spreadsheets have become the de facto tool for logging all types of employee relations case, but unfortunately it doesn’t cut the mustard here.
Excel lacks the functionality to record key data, make it available to multiple people, lock down information from other people, or provide any sort of timeline or deadline alerts. No surprise really, it wasn’t designed for this job. Excel is just not going to give staff the confidence that whistleblowing cases are being handled properly.
In the next 12-months, it’s going to be important for trusts to review the new national policy, draft, ‘tweak’ or merge local policies to suit their employees and find the right tools to support them. Here’s my four tips for getting started.
Firstly, when looking at existing policy, trusts must ensure that they are simple and easy to understand and ensure the policy is easily accessible to everyone. It should include and support as much of the workforce as possible. It needs to clearly set out the standard of behaviour expected by employees. It’s got to make clear what sort of disclosures or malpractices are covered. Transparency around whom and how to approach managers with any concerns is paramount.
HR managers also need to look at the wider business. Is there an environment which embraces the whistleblowing culture so it is no longer frowned upon? HR will need to make sure employees are comfortable with the whistleblowing process and understand that they will not suffer any detriment or dismissal through raising the concern.
HR will also need the right tools in place to do the job. Without those tools HR is hamstrung and no employee will have the confidence that a whistleblowing policy is going to be taken seriously. Any whistleblowing IT system needs to keep HR updated at every stage of the process. Email reminders and alerts are essential to keep the case on track. The system must be able to log concerns appropriately, securely and with no details missing. Depending on the case type, it should be possible to markup and treat certain cases as sensitive and confidential. It should also be possible to generate reports and automate the sharing of information with senior management and other parties so that they can evaluate the success of the policy and evaluate trends.
Analytics is essential. A good system should be able to manage and interrogate case data, providing insights which managers can use to proactively identify issues and intervene. For example, if multiple whistleblowing concerns are being raised against a specific line manager, HR will be able to investigate and implement additional training or other programme to rectify the issue early.
The four tips above provide a good starting point for all NHS trusts facing the challenge of effectively handling whistleblowing cases compliant with policy before the 2017 deadline.