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New protections for NHS whistleblowers who raise patient safety concerns

Whistleblowers in the NHS will be protected from discrimination if they seek re-employment in the health service under new government plans published today by the Department of Health.

The news follows a Royal College of Physicians (RCP) report last week which highlighted concern that a large portion of NHS staff were unaware of their Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, a policy that was supposed to improve transparency and make staff feel comfortable blowing the whistle on patient safety issues.

Under the proposed new guidelines, the government said that today’s plans will strengthen the legal recourse that whistleblowers could access if they have been discriminated against for raising concern in the past.

Included in the new regulation, applicants will be given a right to complain to a tribunal if they have reason to believe they have been discriminated against for blowing the whistle. On top of this, there will be a timeframe in which a complaint to the tribunal must be lodged.

NHS whistleblowers will also be given the right to bring a claim to the county or high court for breach of statutory duty, in order to restrain or prevent employers from discriminatory conduct.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the plans represented another move towards creating “a culture of openness in the NHS, where people who have the courage to speak up about patient safety concerns are listened to, not vilified”.

He added: “These welcome changes will prohibit whistleblowers being discriminated against when they seek re-employment in the NHS, ultimately ensuring staff feel they are protected with the law on their side.”

Professor Jane Dacre, head of the RCP, described the new regulations as “a welcome next step” in creating openness in the NHS and ensuring that staff are protected and able to speak out when they have concerns over patient safety.

“All too often doctors do not feel confident about raising concerns,” she said. “A recent survey by the RCP found that only one in five doctors know who their Freedom to Speak up Guardian is and shockingly of those who are aware, less than half of physicians believe that doctors in their Trust are confident at speaking out.

“We hope that these plans will encourage clinicians to raise concerns about patient safety and increase awareness of guardians. Flagging of patient safety concerns is known to improve patient safety.”

The consultation on the first draft of the proposals will run for eight weeks and close on 12 May 2017.

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Sue Kelly   20/03/2017 at 21:35

Why do we hear today that Dr Chris Day's case may be in jeopardy? Who was his Freedom to Speak up Guardian or equivalent? Why is it that some doctors, initially supported by the BMA after whistleblowing, seem to have this support dropped and their careers left in doubt, as as a result? How can this initiative be trusted by doctors when these cases remain in the public eye? I am very fearful for the future of an NHS where doctors are still nervous of raising the alarm, when they see fit to do so. Shortages of nurses, withdrawal of bursaries, a reduction in applications for places in British Medical Schools and a slowdown in EU national applications for NHS positions will only increase pressure on current medical staff. This initiative may well be a step in the right direction and I applaud much of the reasoning behind it, but how can doctors believe the protections are watertight when they have been so let down over junior doctor's contracts? I am referring to the Minister promising not to impose contracts, but then effectively holding Trusts to ransom to impose them. If you distrust the man at the top, surely you will be wary of anything that he puts in place?

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