Treatment of NHS whistleblowers 'truly shocking'

Review chairman Sir Robert Francis QC speaks to ITV News. Credit: ITV News

The chairman of a review into the treatment of whistleblowers says he is "truly shocked" by the treatment of NHS staff who spoke out about poor patient care.

Sir Robert Francis QC described how whistleblowers told him they faced bullying and the loss of their jobs.

"In one sad case an individual contemplated suicide" he told ITV News.

The barrister, who also chaired the inquiry into failings at Stafford Hospital, said whistleblowers' stories had reminded him of the experiences of patients and families who were mistreated there.

"In some cases, and to my shock, many members of staff suffered in the same way and maybe worse. We should not be putting staff in that position at all because many others will think it's not worthwhile to raise concerns."

The NHS whistleblower review Freedom to Speak Up was commissioned by the government in June to see if further action was necessary to protect staff who raise concerns.

The report identifies a serious and ongoing problem within the NHS where staff are deterred from speaking up and can face shocking consequences if they do.

After over 19,000 people shared their experiences, the report recommends a number of measures to help them.

Sir Robert's proposals include a new National Independent Officer who would support a network of local "guardians" helping staff who want to speak out.

The Freedom to Speak Up review was commissioned by the government in June. Credit: PA Wire

But although they would be tasked with intervening, there would be no new regulatory powers to help them hold Trusts or individual managers to account.

Their job would be to identify where dangers to patient safety are being ignored or staff who are being treated unjustly.

That will disappoint many whistleblowers who believe a public inquiry is needed with the power to summon individuals accused of bullying whistleblowers.

Sir Robert has made it clear individual cases are beyond the remit of his review, but admits the law as it stands makes it difficult for whistleblowers to prove they have been victimised.

He told ITV News, "This review won't give satisfaction to those individuals. I do hope there will be fewer cases in future and there is a moral obligation on the NHS to help those who have been mistreated".

The former barrister appears to admit the law as it stands doesn't offer enough protection.

"I think there needs to be a look at the law to see if it needs to be a matter of unlawful discrimination to treat people worse because they have raised a concern," he said.

The Health Secretary will announce his response to the report in the Commons at 12.30pm today.