The final version of the overarching whistleblowing policy to be adopted by all NHS organisations has been published by NHS Improvement.
The proposal for a single whistleblowing policy was set out in a consultation launched in November 2015, and the final policy has been amended to take into account responses to the consultation.
NHS organisations are expected to adopt the policy by 31 March 2017.
The new policy comes in response to the Freedom to speak up review by Sir Robert Francis QC, who concluded that there was a serious issue in the NHS with whistleblowing “that requires urgent attention if staff are to play their full part in maintaining a safe and effective service for patients.”
He recommended that there should be a more consistent approach to whistleblowing across the NHS, including a single national integrated whistleblowing policy.
Bar Huberman, employment law editor at XpertHR, says: “The intention is that the national policy will set minimum standards and ensure consistency in relation to how whistleblowing concerns will be dealt with.
“The single policy is broad, and NHS organisations still have some flexibility in their own whistleblowing policy, for example setting out the finer details of how the organisation will deal with whistleblowing concerns. Local policies will sit beneath the national policy or be incorporated into it.”
The detail within the national policy includes the type of concerns NHS workers can raise under the policy. It lists examples such as “unsafe patient care and unsafe working conditions.”
The policy includes a system of escalation, to help workers decide with whom they should raise their concern, including the whistleblowing “guardian”, who will act as an “independent and impartial source of advice to staff.”
The national policy also explains what the NHS organisation will do once a concern is raised.
For example, if the individual has been unable to resolve the matter quickly with the line manager, the organisation will carry out an investigation “using someone suitably independent…and properly trained”, and will “reach a conclusion within a reasonable timescale.”
The policy aims to encourage people to feel safe to raise concerns: “Our senior leaders and entire board are committed to an open and honest culture. We will look into what you say and you will always have access to the support you need.”
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers said: “Employers are committed to ensuring that every member of staff feel able to raise any concerns and know that appropriate action will be taken. We know a lot of work has gone into reviewing and improving policies and practice and this policy will help employers with the work they are doing.
“We are also pleased to see that employers can incorporate their local processes into this national standard policy – employers will now want to review the documentation in partnership with their local staff representatives and agree the best way to engage and communicate with staff.”