FAQs: Bringing a complaint to the INWO

Getting started

I have raised a concern with the NHS and I am still unhappy, what do I do?

If you have received a response to your concern at stage 1 and you are still unhappy, you can ask for it to be considered under stage 2.

At the end of the two-stage process you will normally receive a letter from the organisation, with information about how to bring your concern to the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO) if you remain unhappy. You will need to do this in writing, using the complaint form at the bottom of the page on complaining to the INWO.

If you have raised a concern and you are unhappy with the way that it is being handled or how long it is taking for it to be investigated, please contact the INWO team for advice.

I haven’t raised a concern with the NHS, can I take it straight to the INWO?

Normally you should raise your concern with the organisation first. Raising concerns locally gives the organisation an opportunity to respond directly to your concern. Local handling of concerns also allows the organisation to learn and improve using the expertise of the people who are closest to the work. More importantly, raising a concern locally gives you access to support and protection provided by the organisation, as required under the National Whistleblowing Standards (the section in the Standards on support for the person raising a concern has more useful information).

If you are finding it difficult to raise your concern because you feel vulnerable,  or because you are having difficulty accessing or completing the procedure, please contact the INWO team.

What information will you need from me?

We will need you to tell us:

  • some basic personal details,
  • the name of the organisation involved,
  • details of the concern and the background to it
  • information about the impact of the concern, and
  • the outcome(s) you are seeking.

We will also ask you to send us the organisation’s stage 2 letter, which explains the outcomes of their investigation.

Can the INWO consider concerns about complex medical/clinical/technical procedures?

Yes. The INWO can consider any complaint that meets the whistleblowing definition. The INWO uses independent professional advisers if specialist knowledge is required.

Can the INWO consider concerns about HR policy and procedure?

Sometimes. The INWO is not a route of appeal for complaints that have been through HR procedures within an organisation e.g. if you are unhappy at the end of a grievance process. This is because complaints like this are normally related to an individual employment situation, rather than whistleblowing, which is in the public interest. You can find more information about the difference between HR and whistleblowing in the section of the National Whistleblowing Standards on definitions.

However, the INWO can consider the application of HR procedures that have been started after a whistleblowing concern has been raised with an organisation. This is because the INWO has the power to investigate the treatment of an individual as a result of a whistleblowing concern being raised.

The INWO will carefully consider all complaints that are submitted and decide whether or not they meet the whistleblowing definition. You can also contact the INWO team to talk about whether your concern is whistleblowing or HR related.

Can I phone you with my complaint?

If you would like advice or information about a whistleblowing concern or how to bring it to our office, you can contact the INWO advice line to speak to our team. Details of the opening hours and the contact number are on our ‘contact us’ page.

If you would like to submit a complaint to the INWO about a concern you have raised with your NHS organisation, then you need to do this in writing, preferably using our online complaint form.

We do not normally take complaints by phone because our legislation says that complaints need to be in writing. However, if you are unable to submit a written complaint or fill in our complaint form, please call us on 0800 008 6112.

What can the INWO do to put things right?

If we identify failings as a result of our investigation, we can make recommendations to put things right. We always follow these up to make sure that they have been carried out by the organisation. Our focus is on learning and improvement, so our recommendations are made to ensure that things are put right for the future.

We can also make redress recommendations, if we find that detriment has been suffered by a whistleblower or someone else connected to the whistleblowing complaint. However, if you are seeking financial compensation for loss of earnings due to whistleblowing, you will need to go to an employment tribunal. The INWO team can provide more information on what redress we might be able to achieve.

What happens when I bring my complaint to the INWO?

When you submit a complaint to the INWO, the team carry out an initial review to decide whether or not it is something that we can look at. We will always contact you to acknowledge your complaint while we do this. We may also contact you for more information to help us reach a decision. Once we have decided that we can look at the complaint, the lead investigator will arrange a call with you to discuss the complaint in more detail.

You can find information about our full process in the page on complaining to the INWO.

Privacy and confidentiality

What will you do with my information?

We are committed to protecting your privacy. We use information given to us about you and your complaint for its intended purpose and in line with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the SPSO Act 2002.

We may need to collect and share information with a number of sources to carry out our investigation and we may do this orally, in hard copy or by email. We will not share your identity unless it is absolutely necessary, and we will inform you beforehand if this is the case.

We may report on the outcome of the investigation. When we do so we do not name individuals and will consider carefully any chance that you could be identified through what we publish.

We may also use information we collect to compile statistics and undertake research and analysis. There may be public interest benefits in reusing information for these purposes. Information is completely anonymised.

To find out more about how we handle your information and your rights, see our privacy notice. If you have any concerns about what we do, please let us know straight away.

What happens if I send something in anonymously?

The INWO cannot investigate anonymous complaints. If we receive an anonymous report or concern, we will review the information and decide what action, if any, to take. If we consider that there is a risk to health and safety, we may decide to share a summary of the concern (including only the minimum necessary information) with an appropriate external organisation like Healthcare Improvement Scotland or the relevant health board.

Why can’t I remain anonymous and complain to the INWO?

In order to investigate a concern, we first need to determine that it meets the definition of whistleblowing and that it has been raised by someone who is eligible to access the National Whistleblowing Standards (the Standards) (this could be anyone who delivers an NHS service, including volunteers, students and contractors). We need to know who the whistleblower is in order to make this assessment.

The Standards also explain that raising a concern anonymously limits the legal protections available to the whistleblower, as well as restricting the organisation’s ability to provide feedback and offer support. There is more information about anonymity and unnamed concerns in the Standards.

Who else will know about my complaint?

During the course of an investigation, there will be a number of people involved who will need to understand the subject of the complaint that we are reviewing. This could include members of the INWO team, our contact person at the organisation involved, our professional advisers and anyone that we choose to interview as part of the investigation.

However, this does not mean that we will share your name or any other identifying information as part of the investigation. If we do need to share your name, for instance, to request details of the complaint investigation carried out by the organisation, we will do so with a strict requirement that it be kept confidential. If you have any concerns about the information that we share, you can discuss this with us at any time.

Will my employer know that I have complained to the INWO?

When the INWO investigates a complaint, we need to contact the organisation concerned to let them know that we are investigating and to gather relevant information. When we inform our contact at the organisation that we are investigating a complaint, we normally tell them what the complaint is about and who has raised it, this is because we need them to send us information about the investigation they carried out themselves.

When we share information like this with our contact at the organisation, they have a responsibility under the National Whistleblowing Standards not to disclose the identity of the whistleblower to anyone unless it is necessary for the purposes of the investigation.

We will always talk to you before we contact the organisation, so if you have concerns about confidentiality, you can raise this with us before we take any further action.

What to expect from an INWO interview

Why does the INWO want to interview me?

When the INWO investigates a whistleblowing complaint, we conduct interviews with a range of people in order to gather as much information as possible. There are a number of reasons that you may be invited to an interview. For example, it could be because:

  • you raised the whistleblowing complaint with us or have been mentioned by the whistleblower
  • you work in or manage a particular area and we think you may be able to provide context on how things work there
  • you may have witnessed something that relates to the complaint that the INWO is investigating
  • you were involved in the original investigation of the whistleblowing concern within your organisation
  • your role relates to the whistleblowing process within your organisation (for example you are a confidential contact or investigator)

Investigations undertaken by the INWO are impartial and the purpose of the interview is to help our investigators to understand what has happened or is happening, not to assign blame or try to catch people out. INWO staff will be open and honest about the reasons for the interview and why we think you can provide useful information for our investigation. If you are invited to an interview, we will expect you to be open and honest with us in turn.

All interviews are confidential.

What happens if the INWO want to interview me?

The INWO’s lead investigator will send you a letter or email to let you know that they wish to interview you and briefly explain what the interview will be about. You will be invited to contact them to discuss the most convenient time for your interview. We normally conduct our interviews by video calls, via MS Teams or a similar platform, unless you need us to conduct the interview in an alternative format, such as by phone.  After the investigator has agreed these arrangements with you, they will confirm the details of the appointment in writing.

On the day of the interview, two members of INWO team will conduct the interview with you. You can bring someone along to the interview for support if you like, although they should not answer questions or speak on your behalf. They must also agree to keep the content of the interview confidential. The interview will normally be recorded and a copy of the recording can be made available to you if you would like one. We request that you keep your copy confidential too.

The only people who will have access to these recordings are the INWO team investigating the complaint.

How long will the interview take?

The length of the interview can vary but they normally take between 1-2 hours.

Do I have to attend an interview?

Yes, anyone invited to an interview with the INWO is expected to attend. In line with the SPSO Act 2002, the INWO has the power to require any person to supply information or produce documents relevant to an investigation.

Updated: February 17, 2022