Backbench Business - Whistleblowingbackbench Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 5:37 pm, 3rd July 2019

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and that is something I will come on to later. The current legislation is retrospective. It is righting wrongs after they have occurred but, as we have heard, it is too late to put a career back in place after the event.

In the NHS, it is particularly important that people feel able to blow the whistle safely, not only because they have general obligations as an employee, but because many staff have a professional duty to raise concerns where they see them and could actually be in trouble with their own regulators if they do not do so. NHS England and NHS Improvement policies are very clear on this. They say:

“If in doubt, please raise it. Don’t wait for proof. It doesn’t matter if you turn out to be mistaken as long as you are genuinely troubled.”

The NHS constitution pledges that NHS employers will support all staff in raising their concerns. As we have heard on a number of occasions, however, that clearly has not happened. Fine words are not enough. Sadly, staff do not have the confidence to raise concerns without fear of repercussions.

The most recent NHS staff survey, in which staff were asked whether they would feel safe raising concerns about unsafe clinical practices, found that only a fifth said that they strongly agreed that that was the case, and three in 10 said that they did not feel safe raising such concerns. When asked whether they were confident that their organisation would address their concerns, just 14.8% of staff strongly agreed with that statement. Given that 17.8% of staff said that they had seen errors, near misses or incidents that could have hurt patients in the last 12 months, it should be deeply concerning to all of us that staff in the NHS do not feel that their concerns are being acted on.

As the right hon. Member for North Norfolk mentioned, junior doctor Chris Day was a prominent example of someone who blew the whistle and was treated appallingly. He raised legitimate concerns about staff ratios, then lost his job. The tribunal action that followed resulted in a lengthy and, in my view, wholly unnecessary legal battle in which Health Education England effectively sought to remove around 54,000 doctors from whistleblowing protection by claiming that it was not their employer. Four years and hundreds of thousands of pounds later, it eventually backed down and accepted that it should be considered an employer after all.