Backbench Business - Whistleblowingbackbench Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:11 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 6:11 pm, 3rd July 2019

So small is beautiful after all—that is excellent. The evidence is there; it has been there for years. The problem is that action has not been taken.

The Independent National Whistleblowing Officer has already developed, published and is consulting on standards. The standards will look at bullying and harassment—an issue that has come out in NHS Highland—and patient safety issues, and they can empower reporting and review. They include primary care and social care. They include not only trainees like Dr Chris Day, who was appallingly treated, but students and volunteers. No one should be limiting and excluding the person who saw bad and dangerous behaviour from coming forward and doing something about it.

Every health board will have to report on the actions they have taken to remedy the findings of an investigation. Health boards must investigate and record how they investigated. They must record the action they took, and they must show any improvements that they developed from that investigation. Statistical analysis will be part of an annual report by the board every year, which will look for themes, trends and patterns. This is—and I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman recognises it—an attempt to make this work by having an independent office.

The results of a survey of health and social care staff in Scotland—and they are health and social care staff now—showed that two thirds felt they would have the confidence to speak up and raise a concern. That is contrary to the fact, as Members have said, that approximately a quarter of staff in England would have the confidence to speak up. As a doctor, I would like to see the figure an awful lot closer to 100%.

The Independent National Whistleblowing Officer will have among their statutory powers the ability to take disciplinary procedures against anyone who victimises a whistleblower. That is also critical because, at the moment, as we have heard, the whistleblower suffers, and the person who caused the suffering does not.

Regardless of how the different nations of the UK are trying to tackle whistleblowing issues within their own public services, particularly their NHS, we need to deal here with the financial and other UK regulation systems. In particular, the Public Interest Disclosure Act is the overarching legislation for whistleblowing, covering all sectors. It was actually 21 years old yesterday. It was a private Member’s Bill, so perhaps it did not really have the scrutiny it should have had. It was groundbreaking at the time, but the UK is now well behind the pack, including countries such as Ireland, and, frankly, it needs to catch up. As has been highlighted by Justin Madders, it does not protect the whistleblower; it only allows them to go to an employment tribunal after they have suffered huge detriment, with only a 3% success rate, and the tribunal is often used to create more damage and victimisation.

The whistleblowers I have been working with have asked for an independent, free-standing public interest protection Act—not part of employment law, but free-standing—that should do a few things. It must ensure investigation of the concern, because the concern often disappears in all the fighting. The whistleblower should be protected from the point at which they raise their concern. It should cover all those who would be in a situation to report, including trainees or non-workers. It should prohibit detriment, and there should be the ability for civil wrong or criminal offence actions to be taken.

This requires an independent agency or body, and it should also cover regulators. This is not just about the FCA or the FRC, because the Care Quality Commission is in the frame for Whorlton Hall, in that it did a report that described it as not having a problem when people had actually raised issues. If we take the heat out of whistleblowing and make reporting normal, as we have done with Datix systems in the NHS—making this not whistleblowing, but just part of normal duties—then we can change this. Whistleblowers must be valued. In the NHS, it is a matter of patient safety, and that is critical.