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Whistleblowing or Raising Concerns at Work

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter provides guidance for staff and volunteers who are concerned about poor practice or possible malpractice in the workplace. It explains the legal requirements for whistleblowing and lists sources of advice and support for staff or volunteers who have any concerns.

1. Introduction and Definition

The importance of raising concerns at work in the public interest or 'whistleblowing' is recognised by employers, workers, trade unions and the general public.

It is important for individuals to feel safe and listened to when raising concerns. An open approach to whistleblowing promotes the values of openness and transparency and encourages employees to treat service users with dignity, respect and compassion. In that way, the wellbeing and safety of service users and the provision of good care become part of the culture, and are seen as "the way we do things around here".

From the employer's point of view, there are good business reasons for listening to workers who raise concerns, as it gives an opportunity to stop poor practice at an early stage before it becomes normalised and serious incidents take place. Whistleblowing has been shown to be an effective way to achieve service improvement, which has led to better practice.

From the workers' perspective, the freedom to raise concerns without fear means that they have the confidence to go ahead and "do the right thing". It is part of encouraging workers to reflect on practice as a way of learning.

The safety of children is paramount and everyone has a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. However concerned an individual member of staff/volunteer may be, this must never result in a child being unnecessarily put at risk. It is important to remember it is often the most vulnerable children who are targeted; they need vigilant staff/volunteers to act on their behalf.

Definition:

Whistleblowing is when someone who works in or for an organisation passes on information, which they reasonably believe shows wrongdoing or a cover-up by that organisation. For example, the information may be about activity that is illegal or that creates risks to the health and safety of others. The concern may relate to something that has happened, is happening or that a person may fear will happen in the future.

DON’T THINK WHAT IF I’M WRONG:
THINK WHAT IF I’M RIGHT?

The law provides legal protection to workers who have been victimised at work or lost their job because they have 'blown the whistle'.[1] To receive the legal protection, a whistleblower must:

  • Be a 'worker' for the organisation about which they are whistleblowing;
  • Reasonably believe they are acting in the public interest;
  • Whistleblow to either the appropriate people within their organisation or to a relevant third party, such as one that inspects or regulates the activity of that organisation.

The definition of 'worker' for whistleblowing purposes includes employees, temporary agency staff, home workers, trainees on vocational schemes, and those whose employment has ceased. It does not cover the self-employed, volunteers or foster carers. While these groups are not covered by the legislation that protects whistleblowers, their concerns would be listened to seriously and raised with the appropriate person responsible for the children's social care service/agency.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA)[2] amends the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA)[3] by inserting Part IVA (protected disclosures) into the ERA. It offers protections to workers from any detriment from their employer that arises from the worker making a protected disclosure ('a qualifying disclosure'). Disclosure is another word for whistleblowing.

To receive these protections, a worker must make a qualifying disclosure. This is any disclosure of information where:

  • In the reasonable belief of the worker making the disclosure, it is made in the public interest and tends to show one or more of the factors outlined in section 43B of the PIDA (www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/23);
  • The worker makes it to one of a number of specified persons outlined in sections 43C to 43F of the PIDA (www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/23);
  • It may also be appropriate for a worker to make a disclosure under section 43G (disclosure in other cases), or section 43H (disclosure of exceptionally serious failure) of the PIDA.

Complaints and grievances are different to whistleblowing and other employing organisations' policies and procedures should be followed.

The Professional Duty of Candour for Health professionals:

Every healthcare professional must be open and honest with patients when something goes wrong with their treatment or care which causes, or has the potential to cause, harm or distress. This means that healthcare professionals must:

  • Tell the patient (or, where appropriate, the patient's advocate, carer or family) when something has gone wrong;
  • Apologise to the patient (or, where appropriate, the patient's advocate, carer or family);
  • Offer an appropriate remedy or support to put matters right (if possible); and
  • Explain fully to the patient (or, where appropriate, the patient's advocate, carer or family) the short and long term effects of what has happened.

Healthcare professionals must also be open and honest with their colleagues, employers and relevant organisations, and take part in reviews and investigations when requested. Health and care professionals must also be open and honest with their regulators, raising concerns where appropriate. They must support and encourage each other to be open and honest and not stop someone from raising concerns.

[1] Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998
[2] Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, Chapter 23
[3] Employment Rights Act 1996

3. What To Do

If a worker is unsure of what to do, there are a number of ways they can talk the matter over in confidence to decide how they would prefer to proceed:

  • The union or professional body;
  • The independent whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work;
  • An independent legal advisor.

If the employer has a whistleblowing policy, the worker can refer to this. Whistleblowing directly to the services the concerns are about can result in a quick response as they have the power to act immediately on the concerns.

The worker can also whistleblow to the relevant regulatory body for example Ofsted, the General Medical Council (GMC), Social Work England or Health and Care Professions Council ( HCPC). Similarly, the various Ombudsman offices can be contacted such as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman; or the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

Whichever point the worker decides to make the disclosure to, they will be asked a number of questions before deciding how to proceed. It is therefore good planning to set down the concerns clearly to ensure that the matter is dealt with more speedily. Some of the questions that may be asked:

  • Does the worker believe that a service user is at immediate risk of harm?
  • To set out the facts;
  • Do other workers share the concerns?
  • Whether the concerns have already been raised with the employer and, if so, what the response was?
  • What the workers views are about what should be done?

The organisation receiving the concerns must tell the worker what they will do next, what the likely timescale will be and establish a way to keep in contact with the worker. There may be issues of confidentiality which mean that the worker may not be provided with all details but a report of an outcome should be provided.

4. Action by Regulatory Bodies and Employers

The organisation will assess the information and determine the best way to investigate the concerns in a timely manner. The action they take will depend on the type of service the worker has contacted them about and what the concerns suggest is happening.

The organisation may have support services in place to support the worker while any enquiries are taking place.

The outcome of the investigation into the concerns should be shared with the worker bearing in mind any matters of confidentiality.

The organisation should regularly report all concerns raised (whether substantiated or not), the investigations and outcomes to the senior management/ board of the organisation to raise awareness of the concerns, identify trends and 'hot spots', and ensure issues are being dealt with properly.

5. Reasons which can Deter Staff / Volunteers from Whistleblowing

There are a number of reasons why staff/volunteers may not want to contact managers about concerns they have. These include:

  • Concern that they will not be believed;
  • Concern that they have got it wrong;
  • Concern of any repercussions or that they will damage their own career;
  • Concern about starting a chain of events which spirals out of their control;
  • Concern about damaging relationships with colleagues;
  • Concern about disrupting the work or project they and others are involved in.

However, it is vital that any member of staff or volunteer discusses the situation with their line manager. Children should never be put at risk as a result of a failure to raise concerns about the behaviour of others.

6. Once an Allegation or Suspicion has been Raised

When a member of staff/volunteer has raised issues of concern, the following should occur:

  • They should be kept informed of the nature and progression of any enquiries that are subsequently conducted;
  • The line or senior management has a duty to protect them from victimisation or harassment;
  • No action will be taken against the member of staff/volunteer who raised the concerns if they are proven to be unfounded but were raised in good faith.

However, malicious allegations may be considered a disciplinary offence.

7. Further Advice and Support

We recognise the difficulties that whistleblowing can potentially bring. However, there are a number of different areas where support is available. These include line or senior management, human resources department or management committee, a relevant professional body, trade union. Advice can also be sought from Doncaster Safeguarding Children Partnership on 01302 734214.

Speak Up offer a whistleblowing helpline and provide free advice for staff in the NHS or Social Care. The helpline can be contacted on 08000 724 725. Further information is available on the Speak Up website.

The NSPCC Whistleblowing Advice Line – Offers support for professionals who are worried about children in the workplace. They can be contacted on (telephone) 0800 028 0285 or by email help@nspcc.org.uk.

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Only valid for 48hrs