NHS Scotland recognises the vital role of whistleblowing in healthcare. A welcoming and responsible attitude to whistleblowing helps NHS organisations promote a healthy workplace culture built on openness, transparency and accountability. Encouraging staff to raise concerns they may have about patient safety or risk as early as possible, and responding appropriately, is integral to achieving this.
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 the concerns of people providing NHS services in Scotland.
What is whistleblowing?
Those who provide NHS services – whether doctors, nurses and midwives, dentists or other members of staff – may identify risks or wrongdoing, such as malpractice, patient safety issues or regulatory breaches, and wish to raise them as concerns. 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.
Concerns that do no count as whistleblowing
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.
In cases where a grievance is being raised, the appropriate avenue is provided under the grievance policy of your organisation. All NHS employees in Scotland are covered by a standard grievance policy. 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) can also provide impartial help and advice on your rights in the workplace.
Whistleblowing is also different to complaints about public services, which are made by members of the public, rather than people providing NHS services. This means that whistleblowing does not include healthcare professionals complaining about NHS services they have received as members of the public.
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.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998
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, he or she has 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. It may also be helpful to seek independent legal advice.