Motion to Consider
That the Grand Committee do consider the Protected Disclosures (Extension of Meaning of Worker) Order 2015.
Relevant document: 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
My Lords, this order was laid before Parliament on 12 January. It will amend Section 43K of the Employment Rights Act 1996 to bring student nurses and student midwives into the scope of the whistleblowing framework, often referred to as PIDA, the Public Interest Disclosure Act, as this was the Act which introduced protection for whistleblowers. The Government are taking this necessary step to ensure that student nurses and student midwives who witness poor practice can raise a concern without the fear that their future careers will be jeopardised.
The Government are making this change in response to the scandals uncovered at Stafford hospital, where it was found that a culture of bullying and covering up led to unacceptable failures in care. The inquiries that followed this scandal revealed that there were many cases where staff could have spoken up about poor practice but did not feel able to do so. The student nurses at the hospital were also in a position to raise concerns about wrongdoing.
We are aware of at least one example where a trainee nurse tried to raise the alarm about the care of patients in a hospital and, as a result, lost her training position and was unable to complete her course. We cannot tell how many other students in this position have refrained from taking cases to employment tribunals, realising that the cases could be dismissed.
The Government’s call for evidence into the whistleblowing framework in 2013 concluded that student nurses and student midwives are just as likely as qualified professionals to witness poor practice or other wrongdoing in the provision of healthcare services. The Government believe that student nurses and student midwives should be able to report their concerns without the fear of losing their place on an academic course or that their future registration as a nurse or midwife may be threatened.
There is an obvious question about why we are extending the whistleblowing framework only to student nurses and student midwives, rather than to all students in the health sector. I assure the Committee that the Government intend to extend the legislation to all students in the healthcare sector. However, the drafting of that legislation is more complex and will take a bit more time to get right. It will require consultation with all the different professional bodies which register the various professions in the health sector and approve training courses. That will ensure that the legislation takes account of the differences in how students train and become qualified in each profession.
We are already undertaking that work. Of course, it is unfortunately unlikely to be completed within this Parliament, but I am sure that the next Government, whichever colour they may be, will support legislation that creates a culture of openness and transparency within the NHS.
I know that the Nursing and Midwifery Council and Public Concern at Work have worked hard to bring to the fore the issues that student nurses and student midwives face, so that they, too, can safely raise concerns about poor practice. The order is a huge step forward in the campaign for student nurses and student midwives. I hope that the Committee is minded to support the order.
I thank the Minister for introducing the order. Of course, we welcome it. In a recent, much more lengthy debate, we raised other aspects of protected disclosure that we will come back to fairly soon at Report. The Minister can breathe a sigh of relief that I do not intend to raise any of those now, because that would be inappropriate. We welcome the order. It is a shame that we could not cover all students. I was going to ask about the timeframe, but the Minister has given it to me. We are where we are. Given the circumstances, we welcome this important step forward. It is a difficult decision for workers in the health service. We can see from all the case examples that have emerged how difficult it is to go down that route, so we definitely welcome this step forward.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. To reiterate, the Government are committed to supporting the important role of whistleblowers, who can play a crucial role in ensuring that workplaces and work practices, especially in the health service, are safe. I look forward to debating wider matters at Report on the small business Bill, and I commend the order to the Committee.
Committee adjourned at 4.43 pm.