TUC Congress 2019: HCSA wins backing for stronger whistleblower protections

HCSA’s campaign for stronger protection for NHS whistleblowers has today received a ringing endorsement from hundreds of Trades Union Congress delegates who backed the call in a Brighton vote.

Moving motion 52, which sets out the Association’s case for a new body to prevent abuse with legitimate cause to “speak out”, delegate Dr Paul Donaldson argued that current protections “are not sufficient to fully safeguard genuine whistleblowers.”

The motion, which was seconded by the British Diatetic Association, was carried unanimously.

HCSA is calling for “better and active safeguards” via a designated independent agency with binding powers to protect registered whistleblowers, a position backed earlier this year by MPs on the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

The HCSA’s proposed body would have the power to:

  • Register and declare a complainant to be a genuine whistleblower.
  • Maintain a responsive oversight of the whistleblower’s subsequent treatment at work
  • Have the remit to be or provide an ultimate appeals body in the case of a decision to dismiss, or allegation of discrimination or detriment, in connection with a registered genuine whistleblower.

Dr Donaldson told delegates that the current system is inadequate due to its reliance on Employment Tribunals, whose narrow remit fails to cover indirect discrimination against those who speak out on “neglect, inadequate resourcing and wrongdoings”.

ETs rarely lead to reinstatement and find it difficult to make the link between much earlier “speaking up” and later disciplinary proceedings, he warned.

Dr Donaldson said: “Those who have bravely raised complaints about continued shortcomings in staffing levels, or hygiene and such like, soon find their work being closely scrutinised and their whereabouts and movements surveilled.

“There are those who, some time after their disclosure, have found themselves subject to formal disciplinary investigation and even dismissal because of a strict, unmerciful application of disciplinary rules.

“We do not see in the Employment Tribunal system anything which can dispel the anxieties and inhibitions of those who foresee the death of their careers, the reconfiguration of their service, or missed promotions, should they speak out.”

Text of Dr Paul Donaldson’s speech


Motion 52 in full:
“Congress calls for better and active safeguards for the protection of whistle-blowers in the NHS and other public services. It is unacceptable that workers in the NHS and other public services continue to fear that they risk their jobs, or the application of other detriments, because of raising genuine concerns about patient care and shortcomings in service provision.

“The extant and welcome ‘Speaking up’ policy which was formulated and implemented through the NHS national staff council has set out the goal of a protective and encouraging workplace environment for those who genuinely sound the alarm about shortcomings in care and service provision. But charters such as these need to be solidly underpinned by the creation of a purposely designated agency that is charged with the active protection of genuine whistleblowers in the NHS and all public services and that has:
i. truly independent leadership and oversight
ii. a remit that allows it to scrutinise all actions taken to address the concern(s) that have been raised
iii. powers to review and amend all adverse circumstances that might befall the genuine whistle-blower at any time after concerns have been raised.”