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Whistleblowing and the NHS Constitution

Volume 541: debated on Thursday 8 March 2012

On 9 June 2010, I announced a full inquiry into the failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and gave a commitment to

“Reinforce the NHS constitution to make clear the rights and responsibilities of NHS staff and their employers in respect of whistleblowing”.

The Department of Health ran a full public consultation on a set of proposals for changes to the NHS constitution in respect of whistleblowing and published the Government’s response to that consultation, on 18 October 2011, setting out a commitment to making the changes in early 2012.

I have today published a revised NHS constitution which highlights the existing rights of NHS staff to raise concerns without fear of detriment and makes it clear that it is the right and duty of all NHS workers to report bad practice or any mistreatment of patients receiving care from the health service at the earliest opportunity.

Changes to the constitution 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 wrongdoing without suffering any detriment.

These changes are part of a series of measures intended to highlight the importance of whistleblowing in the NHS. This Government have already issued unequivocal guidance to NHS organisations that all their contracts of employment should cover staff whistleblowing rights and amended the NHS staff terms and conditions of service handbook for those staff on Agenda for Change terms and conditions to include a contractual right to raise concerns. We have also issued guidance to the NHS on supporting and taking action on concerns raised by staff.

Enshrining whistleblowing in the constitution will contribute to further raising the profile of whistleblowing and play an important role in creating a culture where staff will be able to raise genuine concerns in good faith, without fear of reprisal.

I recently announced that the Department of Health has put in place a new and improved contract for the provision of a confidential whistleblowing helpline for NHS staff to provide them with advice on how to raise concerns and what legal protections are available to them when they do. The new contract provides for a free phone service and extends the provision of the contract to staff working in social care.

The revised NHS constitution has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.