Stage 1 is for simple and straightforward concerns that can be responded to within five working days or less. These concerns will involve little or no investigation, and can be handled by providing an explanation or taking limited action. The line manager should be involved in resolving the situation, where appropriate. Issues that are more complex, and will clearly take more than five working days to address, should move straight to stage 2.
Organisations must make sure that staff have access to an impartial, confidential contact who they can contact by email or phone, or talk to in person. People can raise their concerns with their line manager, the confidential contact or another representative such as a senior manager (more information on NHS board and staff responsibilities is available under Governance).
Ideally, the person raising the concern will have a face-to-face discussion about the situation. However, if the concern is straightforward and has been raised with someone who is able to take appropriate action, this may be enough to resolve the issue. The person raising the concern must be updated with what has been done.
Anyone raising a concern can contact the INWO at any point in the process. The INWO can provide information and advice to support them, and can also give investigators and managers advice on how to handle concerns.
Anyone who provides services for the NHS can raise a concern. This includes current (and former) employees, bank and agency workers, contractors (including third-sector service providers), trainees and students, volunteers, non-executive directors, and anyone working alongside NHS staff, such as those in health and social-care partnerships.
The person raising the concern must want it to be handled using this procedure. The organisation must offer to support them with raising their concern. The person can be accompanied by a union representative, friend or colleague. Find out more about the support that is available.
If the person does not want to use this procedure, they can raise their concern without giving their name (see the section on anonymous and unnamed concerns for more information about this). The organisation can choose how to investigate the concern, but good practice would be to follow the whistleblowing principles and investigate the concern in line with these Standards, particularly if existing business as usual procedures have not been able to address the issue successfully.
The timescale for accepting a whistleblowing concern is within six months from when the person raising the concern became aware of the issue. The organisation can extend this time limit if there is good reason to do so, for example, if the issue is still ongoing or if business as usual procedures have led to a delay. The most important thing to consider is whether there is any chance that the situation could create an ongoing risk of harm or wrongdoing.
If a case is not being handled under this procedure due to the timescales involved, this should be clearly explained to the person raising the concern. The organisation must also tell the person that they can ask the INWO to consider the decision.
The organisation has five working days to respond to any concerns that are raised. The manager or the person who received the concern will normally provide the response. If there are clear and justifiable reasons why they cannot meet this timescale, someone more senior in the organisation may agree to allow them a further five working days to respond. Reasons for allowing more time for stage 1 include staff absence or difficulty arranging a meeting. The organisation must tell the person why it is not able to respond within five days, and when they can expect a response.
If it is clear from the start that a concern is too complex for the organisation to respond to within five working days, it should move straight to stage 2. If the organisation needs more time to provide a response at stage 1, it must not use this as a reason to delay moving the concern to stage 2.
Once the organisation has agreed that the concern should be handled under this procedure, the next stage is to discuss and agree:
- what outcomes the person who raised the concern is hoping to achieve, and whether these are possible
- what action the organisation needs to take to put things right, and appropriate timescales for this
- whether all the issues are appropriate for this procedure or whether it would be appropriate to handle some of them under other procedures, and if so, which procedures to direct the person to (also see information about raising concerns through existing processes (business as usual)
- whether any immediate action is needed to put things right or reduce risk to patient safety or the organisation, and
- whether the person who raised the concern needs support and, if so, how they will get this.
If the discussion at stage 1 raises issues which a manager considers would be more appropriate to handle under other HR procedures (such as grievance procedures), they should carefully consider whether any parts of the concern should be handled under this whistleblowing procedure.
If someone raises a concern, but a manager decides it is a grievance not a whistleblowing concern, they should tell the person this in writing. They must tell the person they can ask the INWO to review this decision if they are not satisfied with it.
When a manager or other person receives a concern, they must make sure that the person who raised it receives the support and information they need to consider all appropriate options for handling the concern, including HR procedures. They must tell the person what support is available, and when and how they can get it.
Discussions about the concern must cover:
- what exactly the person is concerned about
- who else is involved
- what support the person raising the concern or other staff need (or are likely to need)
- the best way to maintain the person’s confidentiality
- the best person to respond to the concern, and
- whether the concern can be responded to in five working days or fewer, or whether it should be handled at stage 2.
There is more guidance on considering concerns available in our further guidance for people receiving concerns.
The organisation must record details of all concerns raised by staff and other workers. The manager (or other person) should record a concern when they receive it, and should consider any requests the person raising it makes to keep their details confidential (so they are only shared with people who need to know them in order to investigate and address the concern) or for the concern to be raised anonymously (so nobody in the organisation knows the identity of the person who raised it) . Full details on how to record concerns are provided under Governance: Reporting and recording.
The organisation must provide a written response to a concern that has been handled at stage 1, unless it has agreed with the person who raised the concern that this is not needed (in which case this decision should be recorded). The response (however it is provided) must:
- respond to all the issues raised
- give the organisation’s reasons for any decisions
- explain what action the organisation is taking in response to the concern, and
- explain how the person can take their concern to stage 2 if they do not feel it has been handled properly.
If the organisation does not provide its response in writing, it must still keep a record of its decision and tell the person who raised the concern. It must then close the case and update the records system as appropriate. The date the case is closed is the date when the person receives the response to their concern.
Concerns raised at stages 1 and 2 of this procedure will often identify changes that are needed to provide services more safely and efficiently, or improve governance arrangements (how the organisation is managed and held accountable for its actions). Any improvements must be appropriately planned, making sure that everyone concerned is kept informed of changes. There is more information on learning from concerns available under Governance: Reporting and recording. The organisation must include details of any changes that are identified as a result of a concern in the reports it produces on concerns (every three months and every year).
The organisation must also consider whether:
- wider learning is needed across other departments following the investigation; and
- the improvements would be beneficial to other NHS organisations across Scotland. If so, it should share them with national organisations or clinical groups to take forward as appropriate.
Some concerns will not be appropriate for stage 1, and should move straight to stage 2. This includes concerns which:
- contain issues that are complex and need detailed investigation
- relate to serious, high-risk or high-profile issues, or
- the person does not want to be considered at stage 1 because they believe a full investigation is needed.
Concerns that relate to serious, high-risk or high-profile issues may need someone more senior in the organisation to investigate them.
Or, after a concern has been considered at stage 1, the person who raised it can ask for it to be investigated at stage 2 if they do not feel that stage 1 has addressed the issue appropriately, and they still have concerns. They can do this immediately after receiving the decision at stage 1 or some time later.
The organisation should record that the concern has moved from stage 1 to stage 2, and the records system must be clear that this is the same concern, not a new one.
Stage 2: Investigation
Concerns handled at stage 2 of the whistleblowing procedure tend to be serious or complex, and need a detailed examination before the organisation can provide a response. Concerns can move straight to stage 2 if they include issues which are too complex to handle at stage 1.