Definitions: What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is defined in the Public Services Reform (Scottish Public Services Ombudsman) Healthcare Whistleblowing Order 2020 as:

"when a person who delivers services or used to deliver services on behalf of a health service body, family health service provider or independent provider (as defined in section 23 of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002) raises a concern that relates to speaking up, in the public interest, about an NHS service, where an act or omission has created, or may create, a risk of harm or wrong doing."

This includes an issue that:

  • has happened, is happening or is likely to happen
  • affects the public, other staff or the NHS provider (the organisation) itself.

People also often talk about ‘raising concerns’ or ‘speaking up’.  These terms can also refer to whistleblowing.  The issue just needs to meet the definition above, whatever language is being used to describe it. 

Risks can relate to a wrongdoing, patient safety or malpractice which the organisation oversees or is responsible or accountable for. In a health setting, these concerns could include, for example:

  • patient-safety issues
  • patient-care issues
  • poor practice
  • unsafe working conditions
  • fraud (theft, corruption, bribery or embezzlement)
  • changing or falsifying information about performance
  • breaking any legal obligation
  • abusing authority
  • deliberately trying to cover up any of the above.

A whistleblowing concern is different to a grievance. 
A grievance is typically a personal complaint about an individual’s own employment situation. 

 Whistleblowing  Grievance or bullying and harassment
 Key test: The issue is in the public interest  Key test: The issue relates solely to an individual and is a matter of personal interest
 Examples  Examples
 Management persistently pressurises the team into dangerous overtime conditions  I haven’t been granted my flexible-working request.

 A person’s dangerous working practices are leading to the risk of a serious incident

 I have been inappropriately shouted at by a senior manager in relation to an action that I took at work

 Working practices or actions may be a risk to others.

 [Note: Or it is suspected that there is something inappropriate happening in an area which could be a risk to the public, but there is not substantial evidence.]

 I am not happy with the way my manager spoke to me when they discovered I was not following the correct health and safety procedures.

Healthcare professionals may have a professional duty to report concerns.  Managers and all staff (including students and volunteers) must be aware of this, as it can affect how and when concerns are raised.  However, the processes for handling concerns should be the same for any concern raised.


Next: Who can raise a concern? >>


Updated: July 20, 2021