30% of NHS workers don’t feel safe raising concerns

Sir Robert Francis

“Climate of fear” in NHS needs to be tackled

Sir Robert Francis QC, chair of major government inquiry, has spoken out about eliminating the fear culture and victimisation of whistleblowers within the NHS.

With concerns that the treatment of whistleblowers currently is deterring others from coming forward with their complaints, Sir Francis has revealed that an external organisation may need to be created to deal with probing new claims. Speaking to the HSJ, he explained his aims of extinguishing the “climate of fear” that is rife in the NHS. He continued “If people aren’t coming forward with what is worrying them then nothing can be done about that. It’s not a safe system. We need to learn how to do it better.” Discussing the options available, Sir Francis even contemplates that outside scrutiny may be required to keep the system in check. “In the same way I have suggested complaints from patients will often need a degree of external investigation and independent scrutiny that they haven’t had before, I don’t see why the same can’t be suggested for staff raising concerns,” he said.

Reviewing whistleblowers

A NHS staff survey this year showed that although 90% of staff know the procedures to raise a complaint, only 44% believe anything will be done about it, with 30% even revealing that they wouldn’t feel safe at work if they did risk speaking out. “People say they have raised honestly held concerns and as a result have been victimised, sometimes to the point of being forced to leave the service or being dismissed. For every one of those stories any number of people are deterred from coming forward to raise what they are worried about. By the time someone is labelled a whistleblower it is already telling you something has gone seriously wrong,” Sir Francis concludes.

In the upcoming review, Sir Francis states it will examine whether hospital managers should be held more accountable for their involvement in cover up schemes, with Sir Francis adding “There should be consequences for that. We should no longer tolerate people being in effect exiled from the health service because they have raised concerns. The polarisation seems to get to the stage where no one will get out of the hole they have dug for themselves and the question has to be asked if that organisation is being well led.”

Emphasising that all cases need to be properly investigated, Sir Francis said “It is in the interests of the employer that they look into concerns properly and transparently and completely separately from issues they may have with any individual employee. At the moment I don’t think that happens as often as it should.”