FAQs: About the INWO (about us, our investigations, advice and support)

About the INWO

Who is the INWO?

The INWO is the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer.  The INWO provides the final independent review stage for whistleblowing concerns raised about NHS organisations in Scotland.

The aim of the role is to help anyone who provides services for the NHS in Scotland to raise concerns when they see things that are wrong or harmful. The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) has been appointed to carry out the INWO role because of their extensive experience of investigating public service complaints.

There is more information on the INWO’s role on our website.

Is the INWO independent from the NHS?

Yes, we are completely independent of the NHS.

By way of background, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) has been appointed to carry out the INWO role. The Ombudsman's terms of appointment are in the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002.

The Ombudsman is nominated by the Scottish Parliament, and appointed by the Queen, for a period of no more than eight years.

The SPSO is not subject to the direction or control of any member of the Scottish Government, Parliament or the Parliamentary corporation.

We have robust measures in place to identify and manage any risk of bias or conflict of interest, real or perceived.

Who investigates whistleblowing complaints?

Whistleblowing complaints are investigated by a small, independent team of complaints reviewers. Our staff have the skills, competencies and experience to investigate complaints and are selected on the basis of these skills.

We also use independent professional advisers when looking at some of our complaints. Our professional advisers provide us with independent advice on health, HR and health and safety matters.

Our advisers are experienced professionals with relevant and current expertise in their field of practice. They are all registered with their professional body or regulator and are selected on the basis of their knowledge and skills. The advice they provide is subject to quality assurance checks.

Investigations are overseen by the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO), who also holds the role of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). More information can be found about the INWO and their senior management team on our website.

INWO Investigations

What does the INWO do with concerns that have not been considered by the Board?

The INWO does have the power to investigate a concern that has not been raised with the organisation involved.  However, we consider it is better for the organisation involved to investigate and identify the learning and improvements that are needed. We would therefore only step in to investigate in the unusual circumstance that we did not think it was reasonable to expect the person to use the organisation’s whistleblowing procedure. The INWO will consider the specific circumstances of the case very carefully before taking this step.

In some cases, the INWO may decide to undertake a monitored referral. This means that we will refer details of the concern to a confidential contact and ask the organisation to inform us when a response has been provided to the whistleblower, and/or if there are any delays to the investigation process. We do this to improve trust in the process by providing some oversight if the whistleblower has had difficulty raising a concern locally.  See our monitored referrals page for more information.  

How will the INWO report their investigation findings?

We publish anonymised reports at the conclusion of our investigations outlining our findings and any recommendations.  Some details ae removed in order to protect the identity of the whistleblower and others involved in the process, and ensure compliance with the SPSO Act 2002.  Visit our findings page to view our published reports. 

We also comment on any completed investigations in our monthly INWO bulletins. Anyone can sign up to receive our bulletins.

We publish annual statistics on the number of complaints and enquiries we have received in the SPSO’s annual report. Our annual reports are published on the SPSO website.

What is the distinction between the role of the INWO and the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)?

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) is often called the ‘whistleblowing law’. It is there to protect all ‘workers’ (as defined in the Employment Rights Act 1996 – this classification is broader than, but includes, all employees), who have made a ‘protected disclosure’ from being treated unfairly as a result of raising a concern.

PIDA provides legal protection for workers who suffer detriment after raising concerns. If a worker is unfairly dismissed or treated unfairly as a result of raising a concern, they can claim compensation under PIDA at an employment tribunal.

The INWO is completely separate to this process. Unlike the employment tribunal, the INWO can review any concern that has been raised through the Standards and represents the third stage of the process for anyone unhappy with the response they have received. The INWO can consider and make recommendations in relation to:

  • how the concern was handled by the organisation;
  • the decisions that were taken in relation to the concerns raised;
  • the treatment of the whistleblower (or anyone connected to the investigation); and
  • whether the organisation supports a culture of speaking up.

Although the INWO can look at how a whistleblower was treated (and could consider recommendations for redress), the INWO cannot award compensation in the way that an employment tribunal can.

Advice and Support

Can I contact the INWO for advice on a concern?

Yes, if you are a confidential contact or a whistleblowing ambassador, wanting advice on what information to provide to a whistleblower, you can contact the INWO advice line on 0800 008 6112. We can also offer support to organisations with questions about the implementation of the National Whistleblowing Standards (the Standards) across the organisation.

Our Improvements, Standards and Engagement team can also provide advice for staff handling whistleblowing concerns through the Standards. They can be contacted on 0131 240 2978 or on [email protected] for advice on how to handle specific scenarios.

Updated: October 11, 2022