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New NHS Improvement issues first policy document on whistleblowing

The newly formed NHS Improvement, launched at the beginning of April, has issued its first national policy, designed to protect whistleblowers within the NHS

‘Freedom to speak up: raising concerns (whistleblowing) policy for the NHS’ is a national, integrated policy that aims to standardise the way NHS organisations should support staff who raise concerns. Introducing such a policy was one of a number of recommendations made in the Francis review. It is expected to contribute to the development of a more open and supportive culture throughout the NHS that encourages staff to raise any concerns or issues they may have with the quality of patient care or the safety of patients.

The new policy pledges to ensure that NHS organisations encourage staff to speak up and set out the steps they will take to get to the truth behind any concerns. To do this, each organisation will appoint a whistleblowing guardian who will act as an independent and impartial source of advice to any member of staff when raising a concern. Any concerns raised that are not resolved quickly through line managers will be investigated. All investigations into concerns raised will be evidence-based and led by someone suitably independent within the organisation and reports will focus on learning lessons an improving care. Whistleblowers will be kept informed of the progress of investigations. High level findings will be provided to the organisation’s board and policies will be annually reviewed and improved.

Neil Churchill, Director for Patient Experience, believes the appointment of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians will help to encourage whistleblowers to speak out. He says: “Becoming the world’s safest health system requires us to listen to staff and act on valid concerns. In order to do this, it’s vital that NHS staff who witness something that risks patient safety feel able to speak out without reprisal.

“This guidance builds on existing good practice, gives staff in primary care more options to share any concerns and sets out our expectations about how those concerns should be handled. A safe NHS is an open and honest NHS where we routinely learn from mistakes and use that learning to improve patient safety.”

All NHS organisations in England are expected to adopt the policy as a minimum standard to help to normalise the raising of concerns for the benefit of all patients.