Whistleblowing in Health & Social Care in Northern Ireland

22nd November 2016

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority – the independent body responsible for regulating and inspecting quality and availability of health and social care (HSC) services in Northern Ireland – has published a review of health and social care whistleblowing using PCaW expertise.

Review of the Operation of Health and Social Care Whistleblowing Arrangements looked at all of Northern Ireland’s NHS Trusts. PCaW’s role on the Review Team was to provide an analysis of whistleblowing policies in addition to running a series of focus groups designed to learn about staff experiences of whistleblowing.

The Review revealed whistleblowing is seen as a very negative term not helped by media portrayal. Focus groups highlighted that the only stories published seemed to be those where the whistleblower had suffered personally, creating an image that all whistleblowing ended negatively. There is also confusion over the term ‘whistleblowing’ itself with some staff thinking it was only whistleblowing if the issue being raised was very serious or was being raised outside the organisation.

The executive summary states: ‘’ The review team considers that the first step in encouraging the normalization of raising concerns is the development of a model policy for health and social care in Northern Ireland that reflects current thinking.

‘’Evidence from this review suggests that while many staff do raise concerns, a significant minority do not, for a variety of reasons, including feeling that nothing will be done and fear of reprisal. ‘’

A total of 11 recommendations were made to improve whistleblowing arrangements within HSC organisations in Northern Ireland. Key recommendations include:

• The Department of Health should produce a model policy for raising concerns in HSC bodies in Northern Ireland
• Each HSC organisation should appoint a non-executive board member to have responsibility for oversight of the culture of raising concerns within their organisation
• The Department of Health should establish a pilot confidential helpline to provide independent advice and support in relation to raising concerns, for HSC staff in Northern Ireland

Cathy James, Chief Executive of PCaW said, “It was a real pleasure to be involved in this important work. While the process uncovered some worrying trends in the way in which whistleblowing is perceived and dealt with in Northern Ireland, this report is bound to produce real change.

‘’For too long the law has been seen as the answer to providing better whistleblowing cultures in the UK, yet the real responsibility lies with employers and regulators. If properly implemented, this review will provide much needed help and assistance for workers and employers alike.”