New measures set to support whistleblowers in primary care

NHS England is today taking significant steps to make it easier for primary care staff to raise their concerns so that action can be taken and improvements made.

Firstly new whistleblowing guidance has been drawn up which will now be consulted on for the next five weeks.  The guidance comes after Sir Robert Francis recommended that the principles outlined in his Freedom to Speak Up report be adapted for primary care, where smaller work settings can present challenges around anonymity and conflicts with employers.

The proposals, developed after working with partners and stakeholders, include:

  • Each provider should name an individual, who is independent of the line management chain and is not the direct employer, as the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. They can offer support and listen to staff raising a concern.
  • NHS primary care providers should be proactive in preventing any inappropriate behaviour, like bullying or harassment, or discrimination towards staff who raise a concern;
  • All NHS primary care providers should review and update their local policies and procedures by March 2017, to align with the agreed guidance;

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 witnesses 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.”

Today also marks NHS England becoming a ‘Prescribed Person’ under the Public Interest Disclosure Order 1999, meaning primary care service staff working at GP surgeries, opticians, pharmacies and dental practices, can raise concerns about inappropriate activity to NHS England.

The new status will provide another source for NHS employees across England to raise concerns and disclosures about their workplace in circumstances where a direct approach to their employer is not favoured, suitable or appropriate.

Karen Wheeler, National Director: Transformation and Corporate Operations welcomed the prescribed persons status, stating it was essential that staff feel empowered and without fear of reprisal for raising concerns about patient care.

“Our priorities are to ensure that NHS staff who witness something that could potentially put a patient at risk of harm feel confident that they are there to help maintain a safe, open and honest NHS where we constantly improve, routinely learn from mistakes and address how to improve patient safety.

“This will really help employees working in primary care who wish to approach NHS England as an external body.  Where NHS staff have concerns, we want to encourage them to raise them within their organisation directly and at an early stage. We recognise, however, that there will be times when NHS workers will want to approach NHS England. This may occur where for some reason staff are not able to raise a concern internally or feel they have been ignored.”

Anyone with concerns can contact the customer care centre on:

Telephone: 0300 311 22 33
Post: NHS England, PO Box 16738, Redditch, B97 9PT

If you use BSL, you can to talk to us via a video call to a BSL interpreter. Visit NHS England’s BSL Service.