I totally agree with the right hon. Lady. Sir Robert Francis, who did the report in 2015, recommended the introduction of “freedom to speak up champions” in the NHS, and that has happened. However, this is an administrative process within trusts that, I am afraid, simply has not worked—that is the brutal lesson that we have to learn.
For those who are covered by the legislation, the law does nothing to enable a concerned person to speak up in the first place. For example, the law is silent on standards expected from employers, and it offers only inadequate protection after the event—after the person has been destroyed by a cruel organisation. The individual who then tries to pursue their rights under the legislation is too often faced by highly paid lawyers and is pressured into non-disclosure agreements, which, as I indicated, can result in wrongdoing never being exposed. Indeed, we know that the terms of some non-disclosure agreements are unlawful because they seek to shut up the individual and to stop them speaking out, even when a crime is involved.
Only a tiny percentage of cases that are pursued to the tribunal actually end up with a decision of the tribunal. To succeed, someone must show that the reason—or, if there is more than one reason, that the principal reason—for a dismissal is that the employee made a protected disclosure. They therefore open themselves up to false claims that other reasons existed. If the tribunal decides that there were other reasons, either the person’s claim is dismissed or their compensation is reduced.
There is no full definition of the range of disclosures that are covered by the legislation, so the protection is completely uncertain. Disclosure has to be to a prescribed person, but what happens if someone does not know who to report their concerns to? They could easily find themselves entirely unprotected—for trying to do the right thing.