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Whistleblowing - how a staff member can report a problem in the NHS or an adult social care service
NHS and adult social care is usually very good and most people don’t have any problems. But occasionally things can go wrong. If you’re a professional working in the NHS or in adult social care and you have concerns about the care that a patient or client is getting, this page tells you where to start to raise the issue.
You may be someone who works for the NHS or in adult social care and you’re concerned about unsafe work practices or lack of care by other professionals. You have a professional duty to take prompt action to raise concerns if you that believe patients’ or clients’ safety is at risk, or that their care or dignity is being compromised. This is sometimes called whistleblowing.
General Medical Council guidelines about ethical behaviour say that doctors must never make a sexual advance towards a patient or display sexual behaviour. Sexual behaviour like making inappropriate sexual comments doesn’t necessarily involve touching the patient. The guidelines say: ‘If a patient tells you, as a doctor, that sexual boundaries have been broken or if you have other reasons to believe that a colleague has displayed sexual behaviour towards a patient, you must promptly report your concerns to a person or organisation able to investigate the allegation. If you suspect a doctor has committed a sexual assault or other criminal activity, you should make sure it’s reported to the police'.
Adult social care
You work as a care worker in a supported housing project for people with learning disabilities. You become aware that even though your colleague is wearing gloves, she uses the same pair throughout her shift and doesn't wash her hands between tasks. For example, she prepares breakfast, delivers personal care, and writes in the hand-over book without taking the gloves off. This is putting the client’s safety at risk and you have a professional duty to raise your concerns about this.
What if you’re instructed to cover up a wrongdoing?
If you’re instructed to cover up a wrongdoing, the person who tells you to do this is committing a disciplinary offence. If you’re told not to raise or follow up any concern, even by a person in authority such as a manager, you shouldn’t agree to stay silent. You should report the matter following the guidance of your workplace or professional body.
Will you receive legal protection if you raise concerns?
You’re protected in law from harassment and bullying when you raise a concern. You shouldn’t be victimised if you report something which could harm a patient. This means that your job and opportunities for future promotion or training shouldn’t be put at risk because you’ve raised a real concern, as long as you do this in the proper way. Your employer should treat any acts of victimisation towards you as a disciplinary offence.
If you’re victimised after having disclosed a concern, you can bring a claim at an employment tribunal.
How to raise a concern
Generally you have to raise concerns with your line manager or a more senior manager but there will be guidance in your workplace and from your professional body about what to do. Many organisations have a whistleblowing policy, which tells you how to raise concerns. If you speak with the Human Resources department or to your trade union representative, they will be able to show you this policy. The policy will usually give the name of a specific person who you can speak to.
The policy will say whether or not you are allowed to raise concerns anonymously. They probably wouldn’t refuse to look into a complaint just because you wanted to stay anonymous, but in general, it will be easier for them to investigate and deal with your concerns if you identify yourself. You can ask for your identity to be kept confidential, but there may be limits on this. Any matter raised should be investigated thoroughly, promptly and confidentially, and the outcome of the investigation reported back to you, even if no action is taken.
Before you make any complaint, make sure that you follow the proper procedures in your workplace, for example, filling in critical incident forms where necessary. In any case, write down the full details of the incident and keep a copy.
If you decide to raise a concern, you must have reasonable belief that it’s:
- a genuine concern raised in the public interest, and
- true to the best of your knowledge.
The law doesn’t say you have to have hard evidence, although any information that you have would be useful. However you mustn’t start fact finding or investigations yourself.
If you deliberately make a false allegation, this would usually be a disciplinary offence.
Help and advice about whistleblowing
The NHS and Social Care Whistleblowing Helpline
If you have concerns but you aren’t sure how to raise them or want advice about good practice, you can call the NHS and Social Care Whistleblowing Helpline on: 08000 724 725. They can advise on the whistleblowing process but they aren’t a disclosure line (unlike the Care Quality Commission - see below). They produce very clear guidance about raising concerns at work.
You can contact your professional body for advice about what to do if you have concerns. Professional bodies such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the General Medical Council, the British Medical Association and the Health and Care Professional Council all have policies about raising concerns.
Reporting your concern to the Care Quality Commission
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is an independent body which is responsible for monitoring and inspecting:
- GPs practices
- community health services
- care homes
- agencies that provide care to people in their own homes.
You can ring their disclosure line on 03000 616161 to report concerns in these places.
Public Concern at Work
Public Concern at Work is an independent organisation which provides free legal advice to employees who are worried about malpractice at work. Their contact details are:
Public Concern at Work
3rd Floor, Bank Chambers
6-10 Borough High Street
Tel: 020 7404 6609 (Mon-Fri 9.00am-6.00pm)
Fax: 020 7403 8823
If the wrongdoing you’re concerned about is common at your workplace, everyone, including you, may be expected to do it. If you’ve been involved in the wrongdoing yourself, you should seek legal advice before you go any further. Your trade union or professional body may be able to help.
- More about the Care Quality Commission