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Speaking up in the NHS:   Protections for whistleblowers

As doctors, the GMC requires us to speak up if we observe patient safety concerns.

Yet over 70% of hospital doctors told HCSA that it is not possible to raise patient safety concerns without detriment to their own career. Hospital doctors have been blocked from promotion, isolated from their teams and targeted in formal employment proceedings as "punishment".

Ninety-three percent of those who had spoken up were not satisfied with the response from management, with anecdotal responses describing inadequate or slow processes or, worse, complete inaction. Four in five doctors told us they had little confidence in the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian initiative.

Too often, those who speak up are seen as the problem and the reputation of the hospital considered more important than investigating the patient safety issues. This cover-up culture within the NHS must be stamped out.

Staff and patients are being failed. Doctors should feel safe to raise concerns. It’s time for change.

HCSA is calling for:

  1. The establishment of an independent statutory national whistleblowing body to register whistleblowers and protect them against recriminations
  2. The creation of a new criminal offence of causing detriment to people who have made protected disclosures
  3. A regulator for non-medical managers to quash behaviours which contribute to a culture of silence
  4. An immediate audit and reform of Freedom to Speak Up (FTSU) processes to make them fit-for-purpose
  5. Reform of the Maintaining High Professional Standards (MHPS) process to prevent its abuse or use to make vexatious complaints
  6. An extension to the government’s ‘prescribed persons and bodies list’ - those able to receive a formal whistleblowing disclosure – to include trade unions
  7. A responsibility for NHS England and the Care Quality Commission to audit and act upon unsatisfactory performance by Trusts on whistleblowing
  8. Stronger NHS governance including a duty for the governing Board of each Trust to monitor whistleblowing cases

Are you considering speaking up in your workplace? It is crucial that you contact HCSA for support and download our ‘Speaking Up on Patient Safety’ guide