NHS Whistleblowers

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 10th June 2014.

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Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield 11:30 am, 10th June 2014

What steps he is taking to ensure that whistleblowers in the NHS are protected from (a) dismissal and (b) other punitive measures by their employers.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I like to wait until you give me the word.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I am most grateful for any encouragement I can get.

The NHS needs to change its culture to be much more open to whistleblowers. That is why we have banned gagging orders in contracts and funded a whistleblowing helpline and website, and why we are working with brave whistleblowers, such as Helene Donnelly from Mid Staffs, to reform the training of NHS clinicians to make it easier.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I am grateful for that answer. About 10 years ago, two people, a nurse and a consultant surgeon from the same hospital, came to my surgery and showed me evidence of filth—mouse droppings—in even consulting rooms and the operating theatre. They were frightened to leave the documentation with me, because they thought they would be sacked if it was found that they were the whistleblowers. Will they now have the assurance that they could give me or others evidence without fear of retribution?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I hope so, but I want to be honest with the House. It takes time to change a culture, and that is the big change we have to make. Whistleblowers are now coming forward from Coventry, Cambridge, Ealing and all over the country. That is why I am afraid that I profoundly disagree with the shadow Health Secretary, who said that the lessons of the Francis report were about a local failure. This is about a systemic problem and we have to change it across the NHS.

Photo of Charlotte Leslie Charlotte Leslie Conservative, Bristol North West

Given there are so many emerging cases of whistleblowers—both current and historic—being treated with injustice, a precedent will not be set for accountability until these injustices are actually faced. Will the Secretary of State set up a truth and reconciliation committee to look at historic and current cases so that accountability becomes a reality?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

First, I commend my hon. Friend for her campaigning on this issue on the House and on the Health Committee. We have not done everything we need to do to change the culture within the NHS, and we are looking at what more needs to be done to get a culture change profound enough to make it easier for people to speak out. This is not just about whistleblowing. If it is whistleblowing, we have failed because it means that someone has had to go to the press or outside their organisation when they were worried. We need an NHS where people within their own organisation are listened to when they have concerns, and we are looking at what we need to do to take that forward.