When Sir Robert Francis published Freedom to Speak Up, he recommended primary care be reviewed separately. NHS England with contributions from stakeholders drafted whistleblowing policy guidance specifically for primary care.

On 1 April 2016, NHS England became 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 directly.

After a period of consultation with staff working in primary care, which ended in May 2016, guidance for primary care is now available.

Staff in primary care organisations might feel unable or find it hard to raise concerns without being identified. This is sometimes due to their size as they are much smaller than a Hospital Trust for example. The management set up and internal relationships and a real risk to employment can prove to be a problem. In some cases the whistleblower might be employed directly by the individual providing the service that is the subject of the concern.

The intention is that the guidance should be used specifically by primary care organisations to review their policies and procedures on staff raising concerns about safety.

The policy sets out:

  • who can raise a concern
  • the process for raising a concern
  • how the concern will be investigated
  • what will be done with the findings of the investigation

If you have a concern about patient safety, quality of care or inappropriate activity, you can raise it with your appointed Freedom to Speak Up guardian.

Alternatively, you can raise your concern directly to NHS England who is a ‘prescribed person’. This means primary care staff can raise concerns directly.

NHS England and NHS Improvement, formerly Monitor and NHS Trust Development Authority respectively, published a single national integrated whistleblowing policy the along with stakeholder responses from a period of consultation late last year.

Also contained within the Freedom to Speak Up report, was a recommendation that staff that have raised concerns should be supported to find alternative employment within the NHS. As a result NHS England and NHS Improvement will be developing an Employment Support Scheme for individuals who have suffered a detriment as a result of raising concerns.

NHS England are running a pilot support scheme for individuals whose employment has been impacted as a result of raising concerns in primary care. The learning from this scheme will help to inform future schemes being run for primary care by NHS England, and for secondary care by NHS Improvement.  The scheme will deliver a tailored package of training, support and advice to support individuals to assist individuals in developing their skills and building the confidence needed to get them back into work or remain within their current employment.