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NHS staff asked views on assurances over treatment of whistle-blowers

A review last year into the governance of NHS Scotland raised a number of concerns over the issue.

The committee will look at proposals set out by the Scottish Government aimed at changing the culture around whistle-blowing (Peter Byrne/PA)
The committee will look at proposals set out by the Scottish Government aimed at changing the culture around whistle-blowing (Peter Byrne/PA)

The views of NHS staff are being sought as part of a consultation on plans to address how whistle-blowers are treated.

Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee raised concerns last year, as part of its inquiry into how NHS staff are managed, that the current arrangements for whistle-blowers are not adequately robust.

In its report, the committee said significant changes would be needed to ensure concerns can be raised by staff, with a third found to be unwilling to speak up.

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Lewis Macdonald MSP is the convener of Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee (Scottish Parliament/PA)

Fears among staff that they could be blacklisted when looking for a new job if they had been a whistle-blower were also raised as part of the inquiry.

A proposal to address the issue has been put forward by the Scottish Government which would see the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman (SPSO) act as the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO) for Scotland’s NHS.

It would mean the role of the SPSO, completely independent of Government, would be to review how the health board, family health service or independent provider handled the whistle-blowing concern, and if it acted reasonably in making any decision.

It would also be able to investigate the treatment of the whistle-blower by their employer.

Legally-binding protections for doctors in training and other postgraduate trainees who are whistle-blowers have also been introduced by the Government.

NHS staff should be able to report any concerns they have in confidence. Lewis Macdonald MSP

Health and Sport Committee convener Lewis Macdonald said: “Our review last year into the governance of NHS Scotland raised a number of concerns when it came to the issue of whistle-blowing.

“The report made clear that the current whistle-blowing arrangements were not nearly robust enough in terms of their effectiveness or independence from NHS employers and Scottish ministers, and that whistle-blowers must not be prejudiced as a consequence of their actions.

“We want to hear from those working as part of Scotland’s NHS to see whether they feel these proposed Scottish Government changes will give them sufficient assurances to make them feel comfortable to blow the whistle.

“The committee is clear that all NHS staff should be able to report any concerns they have in confidence and that those concerns must be fully investigated in a fair, transparent and independent manner.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This is a welcome development which will contribute to the continued work we are undertaking to embed a positive culture across the NHS.

“On April 30, the Scottish Government introduced legislation to the Scottish Parliament to allow the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) to take on the role of Independent National Whistleblowing Officer for NHS Scotland (INWO).

“The SPSO, in her role as INWO, will independently review the internal handling of whistleblowing cases where there has been a complaint and will also investigate how the individual has been treated as a result of whistle-blowing.

“We anticipate that the INWO role will be established by summer 2020.”

PA

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