Public sector whistleblowers are treated “shockingly,” MPs findBMJ 2014; 349 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g4959 (Published 01 August 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4959
All rapid responses
Sir / Madam,
It is disappointing that in its recent report, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has found that public sector whistleblowers have received “appalling” and “shocking” treatment from their respective public sector organisations, including NHS ones [1,2].
One of the most well-publicised conclusions of the Francis Inquiry into the healthcare scandals at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was that NHS staff should have a “duty of candour” to raise patient safety and other concerns in order to reduce the risk of there being another Mid-Staffs scandal.
We also note that General Medical Council Good Medical Practice 2013  states that:
“ You must promote and encourage a culture that allows all staff to raise
concerns openly and safely.”
Clearly there is still much room for improvement in the area of whistleblower protection.
We note reference to the charity Public Concern at Work (PCAW) which supports whistleblowers and advises on organisational whistleblowing policies. We see from the PCAW website that they have an initiative called “The First 100” which is a list of 100 organisations which have signed up to the Whistleblowing Commission’s 2013 code of practice.
It is regrettable that a year later, only 26 organisations have signed up, and of these, only two are NHS organisations. We are unsure if this poor uptake is due to a lack of awareness of the PCAW First 100 initiative or a lack of genuine engagement in whistleblowing. If the former, we would suggest a renewed advertising and recruitment campaign. If the latter, then we are not in a good place and DH and/or NHS England needs to take action to change the cultural attitude of NHS organisations to whistleblowers.
 Dyer C. Public Sector whistleblowers are treated “shockingly”, MPs find. BMJ 2014; 349:g4959.
 House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts. Whistleblowing: ninth report of session
2014-15. 1 Aug 2014. www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmpubacc/
 Final report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry 2013: http://www.midstaffspublicinquiry.com/report
 Good Medical Practice 2013. General Medical Council http://www.gmc-uk.org/guidance/good_medical_practice.asp
Competing interests: We are employees of Public Health England. The views expressed are our own and not those of our employer.
Clare Dyer reported “MPs found a startling disconnect between the general good quality of whistleblowing policies in theory and how arrangements actually work in practice”. Is this surprising?
Whistleblowers draw attention to poor practice and misconduct that senior individuals in organisations wish to conceal. Whatever the policy says, those powerful individuals will circumvent any policy that is intended to safeguard whistleblowers in order to protect themselves, their friends and their organisation.
In the NHS (and other organisations) senior managers will try to find something to use to discredit a whistleblower. I know of examples where hospital managers have secretly audited the medical records of patients seen by a doctor to find errors; have secretly gone through their work computer; have searched their office at weekends, including going through their waste bin and confidential document shredder; and have had private detective follow employees. Most of us have made some errors that can be dressed up to make them appear serious. If all else fails, false charges can be brought and, from helping whistleblowers, I know that disproving them can take years. By then a suspended whistleblower will have become deskilled and their job may have been given to someone else.
There is only one organisation that is honest enough to have a whistleblower policy that accurately reflects the way it deals with whistleblowers. It’s the Mafia.
Competing interests: No competing interests