Whistleblowing in primary care

When Sir Robert Francis published his report on whistleblowing in healthcare, Freedom to Speak Up, he recommended that primary care be considered separately. This is because the typically smaller work settings present particular challenges around anonymity and conflicts with employers. In response to that recommendation, NHS England has published draft whistleblowing policy guidance aimed specifically at primary care providers, including GP practices.

What is the guidance for?

The intention is that the guidance should be used by primary care organisations to ensure that they meet a consistent set of national standards. It is proposed that by March 2017 all primary care employers should review and update their local policies and procedures so that they align with the agreed guidance. NHS England will monitor the progress of implementation.

The draft guidance is aimed at ensuring that primary care employees know that it is right to speak up, know where to go to speak up and understand that they will not suffer in any way as a result of speaking up. It includes specific examples of best practice actions and prompts to help primary care employers to create an open culture and to educate staff on how to raise and deal with concerns.

The draft guidance also addresses Sir Robert Francis’ recommendation that employers should name an individual who is independent of the line management chain and is not the direct employer, as the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. It requires that this recommendation be followed by primary care employers and suggests a range of options that will be available to small primary care employers where the appointment of an internal guardian is impractical, including making arrangements with other local primary care providers, with hospital trusts or with CCGs.

Raising concerns to NHS England

It should also be noted that from 1 April 2016, NHS England became a ‘prescribed person’ under the Public Interest Disclosure Order 1999, meaning that primary care service staff working at GP surgeries, opticians, pharmacies and dental practices, can raise concerns directly to NHS England. This new status will provide another point of contact for NHS employees across England to raise concerns and disclosures about their workplace in circumstances where a direct approach to their employer is not “favoured, suitable or appropriate”.

For further information on how this issue might affect your organisation, please contact Victoria Watson, Jacqui Atkinson or Claire Reynolds.