The implementation of the National Whistleblowing Standards, and the launch of the INWO service on 1 April 2021 will create a new process for handling whistleblowing concerns about the NHS in Scotland. Until then, those raising concerns should follow the existing local or whistleblowing policy in place with their organisation. With this in mind, this page sets out information to assist staff in safely and effectively raising whistleblowing concerns.
Remember key details
If possible, make a note of key details, such as what caused your concern, when things happened and who was invovled. Such records will provide useful evidence, and will assist any investigation of the concern.
Raise the matter
The earlier the problem is raised and looked into, the earlier any issue can be addressed and all involved assured that things are in order.
It is also important to be aware that many NHS staff - such as doctors and nurses - have a professional obligation to raise any concerns they have about patient safety.
Access advice and support
It is important to get the advice and support you need to ensure you are able to raise the concern in a safe and effective manner, irrespective of the process being followed.
There are a range of options available, including designated whistleblowing contacts within NHS organisations, unions, independent legal advisers, whistleblowing organisations like Protect, the whistleblowing charity.
The National Whistleblowing Standards include a list of contact details of support agencies.
The INWO Advice Line can also provide information and signposting for those raising whistleblowing concerns.
Business as usual arrangements
In many cases, concerns can be resolved through informal conversations with colleagues and managers, and through ordinary or ‘business as usual’ processes (such as incident reporting systems). While many whistleblowing concerns can be resolved in this way, it is clear that raising whistleblowing concerns can involve staff in potentially more complicated and difficult situations, where it is advisable to consider more formal options.
Check the whistleblowing policy
All NHS organisations have their own whistleblowing procedures, and it may be helpful to refer to these. These procedures should tell staff how they can safely raise a concern. NHS Boards also have designated whistleblowing contacts who can assist with concerns.
Pass on concerns to someone in authority
In most cases, this will be your manager. Alternatively, you could contact a more senior manager, or a designated whistleblowing contact. The relevant whistleblowing procedure should provide guidance on the best person to contact.
At a practical level
It may be helpful to think carefully about what exactly the concern is about. Whistleblowing matters can be complicated and involve multiple issues. Expressing this as clearly and concisely as possible will help the person receiving the concern understand the key issues and help to resolve it.
It may also be useful to consider the outcome you want to achieve in raising the concern, and whether this can be achieved through the process.
Finally, it is important to consider what level of confidentiality you want to maintain. Sometimes the investigator will need to know who raised the concern, but in other cases this isn’t necessary or appropriate. You may want to remain completely anonymous (so your details are not recorded anywhere); however, there may be practical limitations for the NHS organisation in investigating an anonymous concern.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998
A protected disclosure can be made to an employer, or one of the prescribed people and bodies under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. It is important to choose the correct person or body. Some of the most relevant to staff delivering NHS services in Scotland are noted below.
Healthcare Improvement Scotland
HIS is an independent organisation responsible for responding to concerns raised by NHS Scotland employees (or referred by another organisation) about the quality or safety of patient care delivered by NHS services. Details on their process for handling whistleblowing concerns are available on the Healthcare Improvement Scotland website.
Concerns about a medical professional, such as a doctor, nurse, dentist or pharmacist can be raised with the relevant regulator. Each regulator’s website will have info about their process.
NHS Scotland Counter Fraud
You can raise concerns relating to fraud, embezzlement, theft, corruption and other irregularities against NHS Scotland with NHS Counter Fraud Scotland.