Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association urges robust safeguards and union role to ensure NHS staff can speak up without fear

The Hospital Specialists and Consultants Association, the UK’s only TUC-affiliated union for senior doctors and specialty trainees, has today set out its vision for a robust independent system to empower NHS employees to speak up in line with the Francis report into whistleblowing.

Central to that is the establishment of a network of local guardians with the necessary authority, support, training and protection to perform unhindered as robust watchdogs for patient care.

In a submission to the Department of Health’s consultation on Francis the HCSA calls for staff, professional associations and trade unions to be given a central role in the process of implementing Sir Robert’s recommendations.

The HCSA adds that senior local NHS management must lead from the front in defining a transparent and fair context for that process that ensures that all parties are heard.

And we urge that budgetary pressures must not be allowed to block good practice that would benefit patients when it comes to implementing the 20 principles enshrined in Sir Robert’s report.

In order to ensure that those principles are upheld the HCSA details the steps and protections needed for the new role of “Freedom to Speak up Guardian”:

• Free access to all areas inside and outside the organisation

• Adequate paid time off to carry out their duties

• A healthy separation between the individual in this role and parts of the management structure to avoid potential conflicts of interest

• A clear and transparent process to select guardians

• Engagement with all staff locally to determine the best candidate

• A national programme of training

• Annual refresher training as a minimum standard

• Annual appraisals by the appropriate Independent National Officials as well as regular update meetings

• No line management powers locally over staff who are carrying out their guardian duty

• Extra protection against guardians to prevent malicious disciplinary cases being brought by management

In addition the HCSA is calling for an ongoing information campaign to raise awareness to the local machinery in place for speaking out and:

• Inclusion of this agenda point in every board meeting and all employer-staff meetings

• Local training by NHS organisations not just of procedures but how to use them.

Download the HCSA submission to the DoH’s Francis Review consultation

Additional resources:
Department of Health consultation document
Twenty principles of the Francis Report