Not All Whistles Sound the Same
The government’s review of the victimisation of NHS staff has been criticised by some patients’ groups for not going far enough to protect whistleblowers. The review proposes the appointment of a national whistleblowing guardian together with 20 principles designed to protect whistleblowers. The review falls short of creating any new criminal offence relating to the bullying or impediment of whistleblowers and it is this lack of teeth that seems to have upset campaigners.
Whistleblowers clearly can be an important source of information when it comes to the exposure of dangerous or fraudulent practices within the NHS, but it is important to remember that not all whistleblowers will always be motivated by altruism alone. As with any allegation, the motivation and credibility of the complainant needs to be examined carefully and managers should not feel forced into taking action simply because the allegation is made by a whistleblower and they are fearful of the consequences of being accused of not taking them appropriate action.
Unproven allegations can cause both personal and professional damage. Once the process of a regulatory investigation or even worse a criminal investigation by NHS Protect has begun, it is often impossible to stop. The consequences can be life changing even if the allegations are groundless and the individual is ultimately exonerated.
Clearly whistleblowers should not be bullied or discriminated against, but equally, the government needs to be careful not to create a culture where the rights and interests of the accused are forgotten. It is a difficult balance, but it is good to see that the government has not tipped the scales too far in favour of the accuser for the time being.