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HCSA calls for legislation to outlaw persecution of whistleblowing NHS staff

HCSA – the hospital doctors’ union has demanded sweeping reform of whistleblowing laws, warning the failure to tackle management bullying is fatally undermining efforts to prevent the next big NHS safety scandal.

HCSA is calling for the establishment of an independent statutory body to register and offer protections to whistleblowers and monitor investigations and the treatment of those who report safety concerns.

The union is also calling for a new criminal law to make it an offence to cause detriment to people who make protected disclosures.

HCSA has dealt with a string of cases affecting members, with some left on the verge of suicide as a result of management victimisation after they have raised the alarm on safety.

Among HCSA’s concerns are:

  • A failure by some Trusts to seriously address internal disclosures by hospital doctors who are obliged by the medical regulator to report patient safety concerns.
  • Trust managers obscuring the detail of safety disclosures by staff, preventing required scrutiny at board level.
  • Weaknesses in the NHS ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ guardian system, introduced after the Francis report into patient deaths at Mid-Staffs.
  • Frequent cases of hospital doctors facing victimisation for reporting concerns on safety, including disciplinary cases or GMC fitness to practice referrals which are lodged after whistleblowing doctors are identified as ‘troublemakers’.
  • The impact of management bullying both on individuals and the deterrent effect preventing colleagues from making their own disclosures regarding safety.
  • Non-white doctors face even greater barriers in raising concerns in a system in which they are disproportionately targeted with disciplinary action.

HCSA is calling for:

  • An immediate review by all Trusts of their internal ‘speaking up’ processes to ensure that they are fit for purpose and cases are being handled robustly without interference by managers.
  • The establishment of an independent statutory national whistleblowing body outside of the NHS. This body would:
  • register potential or actual whistleblowers at the point of disclosure, to protect against recriminations.
  • monitor the investigation into the original allegations and the actions of the regulatory bodies, as well as investigations into those who might have acted unlawfully against individuals who expose safety concerns.
  • The creation of a new criminal offence of causing detriment to people who have made protected disclosures.

HCSA President Dr Naru Narayanan said:

“The intolerable cover-up culture by managers that we still see in corners of the NHS is bad for patients and bad for doctors. Many of the cases our union deals with have whistleblowing at their root, often indirectly and sometimes months or years afterwards. Doctors have been pushed towards taking their own lives due to the abject failure of a system which punishes them when they should be receiving gratitude.

“For too many doctors, the brave, professionally obligated and morally correct step of reporting safety concerns is rewarded with attempts to silence and force out the individual who reports problems by managers focused on protecting reputations.

“We’ve seen time and again the human costs, with well-intended NHS initiatives promising much but failing to deliver the protection and resolutions needed.

“The establishment of an independent body to register and scrutinise these cases is long overdue. We also need to ensure that those who highlight issues have additional legal protection to stop the victimisation and empower their colleagues to speak up too.”