Complaining to the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO)

Using our web form is an easy way to raise a concern with our service.  You can find a link to the form at the bottom of this page.

There are a few things you should know before you begin.

The INWO is the final stage for whistleblowing concerns about the NHS in Scotland. You can bring a concern to us if you have raised an issue with an NHS organisation and you are unhappy with the outcome. 

We are part of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) and are independent of the NHS. The SPSO Act (2002) sets out what we can look at and what we can (and cannot) do.

Our values are to be independent, fair, people-centred, and to focus on learning and improving. Our aim is that everyone delivering NHS services in Scotland is able to speak out to raise concerns when they see harm or wrongdoing. Ultimately we want the NHS in Scotland to be the best it can be.

The INWO service can review:

  • Any actions taken by your organisation in response to your whistleblowing concern
  • Whether the organisation followed the process laid out in the National Whistleblowing Standards (the Standards)
  • How you (or anyone else involved in the concern) were treated after raising the concern

  • Whether the organisation you work for supports a culture of speaking up

Contact us if you are unsure about whether to use our complaints process.

When whistleblowing concerns come to us, we call them whistleblowing complaints (i.e. a complaint about how the organisation dealt with your concern).

Normally, we would take on a complaint after your concern has been through stage 1 and stage 2 of the organisation's whistleblowing process.

Please read more about how to raise a whistleblowing concern in the NHS.

If you are finding it difficult to raise a concern with the organisation you can let us know by filling in the web form or contacting our helpline on 0800 008 6112 for advice.

In some circumstances, the INWO will consider doing what we call a monitored referral for complaints that have not been through the two-stage local procedure. This means that we refer your concern to the organisation but ask to be updated on progress, for example, to be notified if there are delays to the investigation or when a complaint response has been issued to you. We do this to ensure that concerns are properly addressed by an organisation if there appear to be barriers to you raising it directly. If we undertake a monitored referral, you still have the option to raise the concern with us after you receive a stage 2 written response from the organisation.

To help you get started we will ask you:

  • some personal details
  • the name of the organisation you are complaining about
  • the issue that you are concerned about
  • how the organisation has dealt with it so far
  • what you want us to do for you
  • for a copy of your stage 2 letter from the organisation (if you have this).

We will contact you if we need further information from you.

Your data is important to us. We hold and process data in line with the Data Protection Act 2018 and SPSO Act 2002. We are aware that people can feel at risk when they raise a concern, and we take care to ensure any sharing of personal data is kept to the minimum needed to do our job.

We use the information you give us to help us to decide whether we can investigate the concern. 

If we can investigate, we will normally share basic information about the concern with the organisation to get their perspective, and ask them what they have done to resolve it. We will be clear about how we expect them to handle this information, and this will normally include limiting who is informed about your identity to one or two individuals. 

Where a critical patient safety issue is identified we may contact the organisation or Healthcare Improvement Scotland, so that immediate action can be taken. 

When we make decisions on complaints we normally publish an anonymised report about what happened and our findings, but we would not normally do this if it would compromise your identity and safety.

We may also use data we collect to compile statistics and for research and analysis purposes.

To find out more about how we handle your information and your rights, see our website privacy notice. Please talk to us at any time about concerns you have about confidentiality. 

You are welcome to contact us anonymously for advice about any concern you may have.

However we would not be able to carry out an investigation into an anonymous complaint. If you raise a concern with us, or complain about how it has been handled, but decide not to share your personal details with us, we cannot investigate. We may choose to share the concern with the organisation, particularly if it is about patient safety. The organisation can choose how it uses the information we have shared.

We may also share information from anonymous complaints with Healthcare Improvement Scotland, who can consider concerns about safety and quality of care.

You can complain to us yourself or someone can complain on your behalf or help you to make a complaint. You could ask a union representative, or anyone else you trust.

If you are helping someone complain we will need their written consent – unless there is a reason they cannot give it.

What happens after we receive your complaint

We will let you know when we receive your complaint. There are three main stages to our process: Initial assessment, investigation, and decisions and recommendations. You can find more information about each stage below.

Step 1Initial assessment

When we receive a new complaint, we will check if your concern has been through your organisation’s whistleblowing procedure first. If this hasn’t happened, we will normally ask you to complete the local process. If you are finding it difficult to raise a concern we will advise you on how to proceed. We can also intervene in the process if necessary. We call this a monitored referral. If you are still dissatisfied with how your concern has been dealt with after the local process has finished, you can bring your complaint back to the INWO for further review.

We will also decide whether your concern is something we can investigate. There are some things our legislation does not allow us to look at, such as issues that are HR or employment matters, or have been decided (or are being decided) by an Employment Tribunal. If we cannot look at your complaint, we will contact you to let you know why and discuss any concerns that you have about our decision.

Once we are sure that we’re able to look at your complaint, we will contact you for a more in-depth discussion. We do this to make sure that we fully understand the complaint, gather relevant information and discuss what you are looking for. With your permission we will tell the organisation that a complaint has been made and what it’s about. We will ask them to send us a copy of their complaint file. We will only share your personal details with a restricted number of people so that they can share this information with us. Finally, we will agree with you the key issues we intend to investigate. If we cannot agree, the INWO will make the final decision about what we will look at.  

Step 2Investigation

The INWO is independent and impartial so we must look at both sides of the story. We will get information from both you and the organisation to understand what has happened and what should have happened.

During our investigation we collect and look at evidence including the paperwork you send us and any relevant policies. We will speak to key witnesses and staff with responsibilities for the area you are complaining about.  You can find more information in our 'What to expect from an interview with the INWO' leaflet PDF (142KB).  We may also take advice from specialist advisers if your complaint is about technical, clinical, legal or HR issues. 

Our aim is to find out enough information to make an informed decision about the issues we are investigating. We will keep you informed on a regular basis about how the investigation is going.

Step 3Decisions and recommendations

Once we have investigated we will make a decision either to uphold or not uphold your complaint. If we decide to uphold your complaint we may also make recommendations for improvement or for the organisation to take a specific action to address the failings we have identified.

Before we finalise our decision, we will send a copy of our provisional decision report to you and to the organisation concerned. This is your opportunity to tell us if we’ve relied on inaccurate information or if we have something factually wrong. This is also the time to let us know if you have any new information that you think will change our decision. We will consider comments we receive from both parties before issuing our final decision and recommendations. 

Our final decisions are published on our website and presented to Parliament. Our reports are anonymised and contain a summary of our investigation and findings. If there is a risk of identifying you or someone else involved in the complaint we may take out information that could enable people to be identified. We will provide both parties with more detailed and sensitive information about our decision, which is not shared publicly.

We follow up on any recommendations we make and we will require evidence to be provided that the organisation has taken action. 

What if I am unhappy with the service from the INWO?

The INWO team are committed to delivering a high standard of service to all of our customers.

We have customer service standards so that anyone using our service can know what to expect from us. You have the right to complain if you feel we are not meeting our standards.  For more information please see our customer service standards.

Would you like to submit a complaint now?

If you have carefully read our information above and feel you are ready to submit a whistleblowing complaint now, please use our online form.

Submit a complaint to the INWO online

You can also download and print a PDF (183KB) of the complaint form


Updated: January 23, 2024