First national whistleblowing policy published to improve patient safety

People working in the NHS who raise concerns about the safety or quality of patient care will be supported wherever in the NHS they work, under new standardised national whistleblowing policy.

Together with NHS England, we have published a single national integrated whistleblowing policy to help standardise the way NHS organisations should support staff who raise concerns, following a public consultation on the draft policy in November last year.

The new policy will ensure:

  • NHS organisations encourage staff to speak up and set out the steps they will take to get to the bottom of any concerns
  • organisations will each appoint their own Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, an independent and impartial source of advice to staff at any stage of raising a concern
  • any concerns not resolved quickly through line managers are investigated
  • investigations will be evidence-based and led by someone suitably independent in the organisation, producing a report which focuses on learning lessons and improving care
  • whistleblowers will be kept informed of the investigation’s progress
  • high level findings are provided to the organisation’s Board and the policy will be annually reviewed and improved

We received 165 responses to the consultation, the majority of which were from current or previous NHS staff members and which strongly supported the introduction of the policy.

Recommended by Sir Robert Francis in his Freedom to Speak Up review, this policy contributes to the need to develop a more open and supportive culture that encourages staff to raise any issues of patient care quality or safety.

Dr Kathy Mclean, Executive Medical Director at NHS Improvement said:

“Staff working in the NHS are often the first to spot any issues with the safety or quality of patient care, and to make improvements quickly it is essential that they feel able to speak up.

“When Sir Robert Francis did his review on the Freedom to Speak Up, he said that raising concerns should be part of normal routine business for any well-led NHS organisation, and that a national policy would help make this happen. This policy will help standardise the approach to whistleblowing across the NHS, so that we can embed continuous improvement into how the NHS works.

 “I want NHS staff to feel that any concern raised is an opportunity to learn and improve care, and we will help NHS organisations to implement this policy and foster free and supportive staff cultures.”

Neil Churchill, NHS England Director for Patient Experience, said:

“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 new policy builds on existing good practice, gives staff 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.”

The consultation received responses from whistleblowing organisations, trade unions, NHS providers and commissioners, so we were able to ensure the policy works well across the sector and is supported widely.

We will continue to work with organisations across the NHS to help them implement the new policy and improve support offered for whistleblowers.

NHS England is also currently inviting consultation responses on new guidance for whistleblowing in the primary care sector.

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