Government offers protection for whistleblowers

Government offers protection for whistleblowers

14 June 2010

NHS whistleblowers will be given greater protection from the government, it has been announced.

Health minister Andrew Lansley unveiled new plans to protect NHS staff who raise concerns. Measures include reinforcing rights and responsibilities for staff and employers in the NHS constitution; issuing new NHS guidance stating that employment contracts should cover whistleblowing; and supporting staff who speak up about concerns.

He revealed the plans as part of an announcement that a full public inquiry would be carried out into the failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The inquiry will have wide-ranging powers, including the right to compel witnesses to attend and speak under oath. It will examine events at the hospital where poor standards are said to have caused needless patient deaths. Problems at Mid-Staffordshire were laid bare by the NHS regulator last March.

Mr Lansley said: "We know only too well what happened at Mid-Staffordshire, in all its harrowing detail, and the failings of the trust itself. This was a failure of the trust first and foremost, but it was also a national failure of the regulatory and supervisory system who should have secured the quality and safety of patient care." He said he wanted to strengthen the ability of staff to raise concerns.

The commitment to protect whistleblowers has been welcomed by the British Medical Association. They published the results of a survey of members in Scotland last month that revealed the majority of doctors questioned were too afraid to voice concerns.

BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said: “It often takes a huge amount of courage to raise concerns about patient care. NHS staff who speak out on behalf of their patients should be protected as much as possible, and it is outrageous that they are often either ignored or threatened with a range of sanctions. We welcome this commitment to greater protections for those who raise concerns, and look forward to seeing detailed proposals.”

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