Doctors, nurses and other NHS workers who blow the whistle will be protected in the future, under changes to the NHS Constitution announced by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley today.
The changes will also make it clear that it is the duty of all NHS workers to report bad practice or any mistreatment of patients receiving care from the health service.
The changes will be enshrined in the NHS Constitution and associated guidelines as soon as possible to encourage more staff to come forward with concerns. This follows the poor care exposed by the Care Quality Commission last week after unannounced inspections of 100 NHS hospitals.
Changes to the constitution, to be made in early 2012, will add:
• an expectation that staff should raise concerns at the earliest opportunity;
• a pledge that NHS organisations should support staff when raising concerns by ensuring their concerns are fully investigated and that there is someone independent, outside of their team, to speak to; and
• clarity around the existing legal right for staff to raise concerns about safety, malpractice or other wrong doing without suffering any detriment.
The changes, which are part of a series of measures intended to promote whistleblowing, follow a public consultation earlier this year in which there was an overwhelmingly positive response to amend the NHS Constitution in this way.
Andrew Lansley said:
“The first lines of defence against bad practice are the doctors and nurses doing their best to care for patients. They need to know that they have a responsibility to their patients to raise concerns if they see risks to patient safety. And when they do, they should be reassured that the Government stands full square behind them.
“We are determined to root out the problems in the NHS. That is why I requested a series of unannounced hospital inspections by the Care Quality Commission. Its latest reports showed there are long standing problems and we now want to do all we can to tackle them.”
Notes to editors
1. A copy of the consultation report is available on the Department of Health website.
2. On 9 June 2010, the Secretary of State made an announcement to the House of Commons, with regard to taking forward a full inquiry into the failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. Within this announcement he committed to undertake further work on whistleblowing, outlining five key areas for improvement, one of which was to ‘Reinforce the NHS constitution to make clear the rights and responsibilities of NHS staff and their employers in respect of whistleblowing’.
3. The NHS Constitution codifies NHS principles and values and the rights and responsibilities of patients and staff. It specifically draws attention to the protection available to staff, and the handbook to the constitution specifically cites the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA) and available staff rights ‘to protection from detriment in employment and the right not to be unfairly dismissed’. The proposed amendments to the Constitution as set out in the consultation document would emphasise those rights and responsibilities.
4. The Department conducted a full public consultation between 12 October 2010 and 11 January 2011 - 103 responses were received.