Whistleblowing

The National Whistleblowing Standards

NHS Scotland recognises the vital role of whistleblowing in healthcare to prevent harm or wrongdoing. Encouraging staff to raise concerns as early as possible and responding appropriately helps drive improvement in the NHS.

To support and protect NHS Scotland staff who raise concerns, a new whistleblowing process was implemented on 1 April 2021, the National Whistleblowing Standards (the Standards) (opens in new window). The Standards have been developed by the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO) in consultation with NHS organisations, unions, regulators and previous whistleblowers. The INWO independently review and investigate complaints about the whistleblowing process and make recommendations.

More information about the role of the INWO.
 

People providing an NHS service may identify risks of harm or wrongdoing, such as malpractice, patient safety issues or regulatory breaches, and wish to speak up about them.  This is whistleblowing, which may be defined as someone within an organisation raising concerns about a risk of harm or wrongdoing in the public interest.

More information on the definition of whistleblowing

Anyone providing a service on behalf of the NHS can raise concerns through the Standards. This includes employees, contractors, volunteers, students and people working in primary care and health and social care partnerships.

More information on who can raise a whistleblowing concern

A whistleblowing concern is different to a grievance.  A grievance is typically a personal complaint about an individual’s own employment situation (for example bullying, harassment, discrimination), which is not made in the public interest.  In contrast, a person raising a whistleblowing concern is usually a witness and may have no direct personal involvement in the concern they are raising, but are concerned about the impact on patients/ safe working practices.

More information on whistleblowing and grievances

In cases where a grievance is being raised, the appropriate avenue is provided under the grievance policy of your organisation.  All NHS  Scotland employees are covered by a standard Grievance policy (opens in new window).  Other employers will have their own grievance policies.  If you are a member of a union, your workplace representatives will be able to provide advice on these processes.  The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) (opens in new window) can also provide impartial help and advice on your rights in the workplace.

Whistleblowing is also different to making a complaint about public services, which are made by members of the public, rather than people working in NHS services.  This means that whistleblowing does not include healthcare professionals complaining about NHS services they have received as patients. 

If you wish to complain about the care or treatment you have received from the NHS, you should access the complaints procedure of the relevant health service provider.  The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman is the final stage for complaints about public service organisations in Scotland, including the NHS.

Legislative protection for whistleblowers is provided under the Employment Rights Act 1996, as amended by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.  Where a worker makes a protected disclosure, they have a right not to be subjected to any detriment by their employer for making that disclosure. 

It should be noted that there are some potential complexities to the Act, including who qualifies as a ‘worker’, and whether something falls within the meaning of a ‘protected disclosure’.  Protect, the whistleblowing charity, have published information on the arrangements under the Act on their website (opens in new window). It may also be helpful to seek independent legal advice.

More information about the Public Interest Disclosure Act and the employer’s duty of care to those raising concerns.

Updated: April 1, 2021