Two years after the release of the Freedom To Speak Up review, Radio 4’s ‘File on 4’ recently investigated the treatment of whistleblowers in the NHS to identify if there is now a more accepting culture where staff can express their concerns.

The Freedom To Speak Up review, which was published in February 2015, was carried out after revelations that between 400 and 1200 patients had died at Stafford Hospital due to poor patient care. The findings of the review intended to encourage staff within the NHS to express their concerns about patient care in an environment that would be responsive and supportive. ‘File on 4’ investigated whether the situation has improved over the last 2 years.

According to ‘File on 4’, the Care Quality Commission reported that, during the last 6 months of 2016, 50% of concerns raised within the NHS had produced immediate inspections, 20% had been referred to other bodies for investigation, 10% required no further action and the remaining 20% were still under review.

However, ‘File on 4’s investigation suggested a less positive picture.

During their investigations, they found examples of on-going professional discrimination, negative reporting and threats against whistleblowers.

In its 2016 NHS staff survey, one third of staff stated that they still do not feel able to raise any concerns they may have, and a half of staff felt that their concerns would not be listened to anyway.

As a result of the Freedom To Speak Up review, a national Freedom To Speak Up Guardian has been appointed to monitor that investigations are pursued and whistleblowers feel they are listened to.

The current Guardian, Henrietta Hughes, feels that the culture around whistle-blowing in the NHS is improving but commented that “whistleblowing is still a problem in the NHS….Not all staff are comfortable about raising concerns, even where it affects patient safety.”

Alongside a national guardian, local NHS Trusts are meant to appoint their own guardians to serve the same function. However, this has not been fully implemented nationwide. As Norman Lamb, former Health Minister, commented, “it is a patchy system….and pretty toothless in practice. If (a guardian) is employed in the organisation, there is a conflict of interest.”

Dr. Minh Alexander,a psychiatrist and former whistle-blower, commented that it was ‘crucial in protecting patients’ that everyone within the NHS should feel able to air their concerns in the knowledge that they will be listened to and without fear of recrimination.

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