Whistleblowing codes of conduct

Most health and social care professionals are required to register with a professional body and adhere to a code of conduct. These bodies should be able to offer advice to whistleblowers as well as register complaints against their members. Professional codes of conduct or practice usually place a duty on the practitioner to report concerns.

For social workers, now registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, there is no longer a ‘code of practice’ and such disclosure is no longer specifically expressed as a requirement. However, the more general standards of conduct, performance and ethics state that practitioners ‘must act in the best interests of service users’ and ‘must protect service users’ from danger (Health and Care Professions Council, 2012).  The British Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics states that: ‘Social workers should be prepared to report bad practice using all available channels including complaints procedures and if necessary use public interest disclosure legislation and whistleblowing guidelines.’ (British Association of Social Workers, 2012).

Acknowledging the potential threats to, and lack of support for, those who choose to blow the whistle, the College of Social Work states that it would ‘like to see employers not only reiterate their commitment to social workers under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, but go beyond the basic requirements and take active steps to foster an open and honest culture in the workplace’ (The College of Social Work, 2013).

Since the abolition of the General Social Care Council (GSCC), Skills for Care  hosts the GSCC codes of conduct for social care workers and employers on its website. The code for social care workers expects them to inform their employer, or an appropriate authority, if they have concerns about practice or resource issues that may be unsafe or adversely affect standards of care (General Social Care Council, 2010a). Employers are expected to have policies and systems in place to encourage employees to raise concerns and to deal with those concerns promptly and effectively (General Social Care Council, 2010b).

Skills for Care is continuing to promote the availability of the GSCC Code of Practice. It has also published a new Code of Conduct for Healthcare Support Workers and Adult Social Care Workers in England. This states that ‘as a healthcare support worker or adult social care worker in England you must report any actions or omissions by yourself or colleagues that you feel may compromise the safety or care of people who use health and care services and, if necessary use whistleblowing procedures to report any suspected wrongdoing’ (Skills for Care and Skills for Health, 2013).

The National Minimum Training Standards for Healthcare Support Workers and Adult Social Care Workers in England require workers to know how and when to escalate any concerns; this includes use of whistleblowing policies. The standards tell workers: ‘you must report things that you feel are not right, are illegal or if anyone at work is neglecting their duties. This includes when someone’s health and safety is in danger; damage to the environment; a criminal offence; that the company is not obeying the law (like not having the right insurance); or covering up wrongdoing’ (Skills for Care and Skills for Health, 2013).