Whistleblower report finds NHS staff 'afraid to speak out'

The Freedom to Speak Up review has been published today. Credit: PA Wire

The chairman of a review into the treatment of NHS whistleblowers said there is a "serious problem" that needs to be addressed or trust in the service "will be diminished".

The Freedom to Speak Up review, chaired by Sir Robert Francis QC, recommended appointing a National Independent Officer to identify failings and address dangers to patient safety when whistleblowers come forward.

Sir Robert said there "must be a change of culture" in the NHS to make easier for staff to raise issues that worry them rather than them living in a "climate of fear".

The new National Independent Officer would offer support to local "guardians" - a named person in every hospital whose role would be to provide independent support and advice to staff who want to speak up and hold the board to account if it fails to focus on patient safety.

Sir Robert said he hopes to see action "at every level" of the NHS to ensure raising concerns about patient safety becomes part of "normal working life".

Review proposals

  • A policy overhaul so it does not stand in way of cultural change

  • Training for all NHS staff on how to speak out

  • Creation of National Independent Officer role

  • A "guardian" for every NHS employer to listen, advise and ensure information gets to the right place

  • Review of the law to help whistleblowers get back to work afterwards

What it does not do

  • Offer financial redress to those who have lost money (salary, pension, legal fees) after whistleblowing

  • Detail how NHS Trusts will be held accountable if they fail to address the concerns of whistleblowers

For the most part the National Independent Officer will take "informal action" encouraging NHS organisations to get things right rather than react after the event, Sir Robert added.