What is Whistle Blowing?
‘Whistle Blowing’ is the popular term applied to a situation where an employee, former employee or member of an organisation raises concerns to people who have the power and presumed willingness to take corrective action.
A ‘protected disclosure’ is the official term for whistle blowing; the protection is afforded to the practitioner in the interest of the public. All employers should have a formal policy for raising concerns, which will usually be known as the ‘whistle blowing policy’, and you should familiarise yourself with this at an early stage when tackling a concern you have.
Professional practice in the NHS should be based on a culture of openness and a culture of reporting as a normal, routine and everyday part of clinical governance. We understand that the failure of such governance mechanisms can necessitate the need to raise concerns and, in this event, it is important to highlight these at an early stage, particularly where patient safety may be at risk.
Patient safety – your duties as a doctor
Doctors have a professional duty, under Good Medical Practice, to raise concerns. Concerns in the workplace can vary in nature but they will all have one common factor: ensuring patient safety.
It is important to remember that raising a concern is different from raising a personal complaint or grievance. The latter relates to concerns an individual may have about the way in which an employer has acted in relation to him or her.
Good Medical Practice states:
“If you have good reason to think that patient safety is or may be seriously compromised by inadequate premises, equipment, or other resources, policies or systems, you should put the matter right if that is possible. In all other cases you should draw the matter to the attention of your employing or contracting body. If they do not take adequate action, you should take independent advice on how to take the matter further. You must record your concerns and the steps you have taken to try to resolve them.”
Protecting patients can also mean raising concerns about your colleagues. The GMC’s guidance from January 2012 expands on the specific obligations contained in Good Medical Practice:
“You must also protect patients from risk of harm posed by another colleague’s conduct, performance or health by taking appropriate steps immediately so that the concerns are investigated and patients are protected where necessary.”
Who can help you
- GGC Health Board has a policy on raising concerns about patient safety, which sets out how concerns should be escalated within the organisation.
- If you are unable to access your employer’s policy, as a member of the BMA, you can request for them to locate this on your behalf.
- Glasgow LMC are also here for support and counsel and to source any appropriate policies to assist.
- Public Concern at Work is the whistleblowing charity. Public Concern at Work aims to help make whistleblowing work so that dangers, wrongdoing and serious risks that threaten the public good are deterred or at least detected before serious damage is caused. They pursue this aim through our free confidential advice line, the support and services.
The following medical defence organisations provide their own guidance:
- The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS)
- The Medical Protection Society (MPS)
- The Medical Defence Union (MDU) – Their 24 hour advisory helpline service can be reached on 0800 716 646.
Shipman Inquiry proposals
Following examination of whistleblowing in the case of Dr Harold Shipman and generally within the NHS, the Shipman Inquiry has suggested changes. In particular, the Inquiry made suggestions on the meaning of “good faith”, the requirement to demonstrate “reasonable belief” and the nature of making a disclosure in a small workplace (such as a GP practice).
In summary the Shipman Inquiry has strongly recommended that all GPs should promote whistle blowing and ensure that their staff know how to raise concerns about patient safety.