MP leads calls for whistleblowing legislation to be changed: ‘We need a specific NHS law’

A leading MP and doctor has told MPs that the current law used for whistleblowing is outdated and could potentially prevent whistleblowers from coming forward in the future.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Dr Philippa Whitford, an SNP politician and surgeon, said the success rate of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) used to bring concerns to the fore was “appalling” and called for new legislation altogether.

Dr Whitford spoke of previous scandals including Gosport and Morecambe Bay involving negligent practice for several years, and often whistleblowers who might have brought the issue to light were “punished or ignored.”

“The tragedies ​at Gosport brought the whole issue back,” she said. “A nurse had come forward years and years ago, and could have saved hundreds of lives had she been listened to. Not being listened to is almost the least that can happen to a whistleblower, in that often they suffer detriment or reprisals and even lose their jobs.”

The MP noted that many whistleblowers who are quietened and suppressed can only use the PIDA for litigation after detriment has been caused.

She said: “The Act most certainly does not protect whistleblowers. It describes itself as protecting whistleblowers from detriment, intimidation and reprisals, but PIDA can be used only for litigation after the detriment.

“Once someone has lost their job they can take their employer to an employment tribunal and attempt to have redress. The problem at that point is that the whistleblower has to prove that it was their disclosure—their coming forward and speaking up—that drove the loss of their job.”

Dr Whitford added that employers will come up with other excuses for the removal of the whistleblower, such as not fitting in well with staff or being late for work to cover for removal of the concerned staff member.

Staff who actually come forward with issues through the PIDA have an appalling success rate of 3% when it reaches litigation, Dr Whitford added. Whistleblowers may also be faced with legal costs, bankruptcy, and stress that could go on for extended periods.

“I make the simple case that we need a new public interest disclosure law. It should not sit inside employment law. It should not be a tweak to what we have now. We should recognise that the PIDA covers all sectors,” she commented.

“The NHS may be one of the most common sectors to have whistleblowers, but the Act covers finance, research and business. We need a specific law.”

Sir Robert Francis, who led two major inquiries into failures at Mid Staffordshire NHS FT, called on every NHS trust in England to appoint a guardian to support whistleblowers.

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Image credit: Danny Lawson, PA Images


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