Whistleblowing

In this section:

Introduction

The main reason enlightened organisations implement whistleblowing arrangements is that they recognise that it makes good business sense.

British Standards Institution, 2008

An important part of promoting dignity is ensuring a working environment that encourages employees to challenge poor or dangerous practice. Good leadership and an open and honest culture can enable individuals to feel comfortable about raising concerns with their colleagues or managers. Unfortunately, in some cases the work environment is not so open and employers not so receptive to concerns about malpractice.

Blowing the whistle is not easy and needs careful consideration but it is a vital part of safeguarding for adults in health and social care services.

Those who raise concerns can bring about significant improvements. Terry Bryan, the whistleblower and former senior nurse at Winterbourne View, was initially ignored by his manager, senior Castlebeck staff and the Care Quality Commission (CQC). His tenacity, however, paid off, and the resulting BBC Panorama exposé resulted in real change for the better. The residents were moved to safety, the abusers were prosecuted, the home was closed and ultimately the provider went out of business. The CQC also changed its practice in relation to whistleblowers.

Researchers have questioned the effectiveness of whistleblowing policies (Pemberton et al, 2012) and whether the protection available to whistleblowers is adequate (Lewis, 2008). Events like the abuse of residents at Winterbourne View and the failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, have strengthened the argument that there is inadequate protection. These events serve as a stark reminder; both that employees may choose not to raise concerns for fear of the consequences and that employers may fail to respond. These cases have also raised serious concerns about the role of the regulator. It is clear that significant changes are needed to ensure that whistleblowing is an effective mechanism for ensuring good, safe practice that supports dignity.

Public Concern at Work has set up an independent Whistleblowing Commission to oversee a public consultation to examine the effectiveness of whistleblowing in the UK and make recommendations for change. The Commission will report in late 2013.

What is whistleblowing?

This Care Quality Commission (2011) definition makes the helpful distinction between concerns raised internally and those raised with external bodies because internal reporting is not appropriate or has been ignored:

Someone directly employed by a registered provider, or someone providing a service for the provider, reports concerns where there is harm, or the risk of harm, to people, or possible criminal activity.

and

The management have not dealt with those concerns by discussing them or by using the employer’s own whistleblowing policy, or the worker does not feel confident that the management will deal with those concerns properly and contacts a ‘prescribed body’, such as a regulator instead.