With World Whistleblowers Day  here (Tuesday, 23 June), the Business Support team at Protect has been reflecting on the work of employers who are commendably continuing to strive to achieve a strong and positive speak-up culture, and how those with best practice policies could use this national focus day to signpost employees to their arrangements.

Originally created by a group of NGOs working as part of the South East Europe Coalition on Whistleblower Protection in 2019, World Whistleblowers Day was created to raise global public awareness in combating corruption.

The day is about the important role of whistleblowers in combating corruption and maintaining national security.

In these times of flux, when expectations and duties of organisations towards all their stakeholders have been constantly shifting, it is more important than ever for employers to demonstrate support for anyone who would raise a concern about wrongdoing or malpractice within their workplace.

New and very different practices and ways of working may lead to problems which employers cannot afford to miss.

Mass remote working could produce opportunities for data breaches, new reporting methods may lead to mis-reporting of finances, and new working environments may create health and safety hazards or safeguarding issues.

We have already seen so many examples of whistleblowers raising life and death issues from a medical point of view – the Wuhan doctor who raised the alarm about the virus, and health and care workers coming forward about PPE shortages.

The Protect Advice Line has been busier than ever, with 40% of our calls being Covid-19 related. Calls to us are usually from individuals who do not know where to turn, or who don’t feel confident following the procedure set out by their workplace. This could be evidence of mistrust, but could also be a sign that organisations are just not communicating their guidelines and attitude towards whistleblowing as well as they could be.

The value of speaking up to stop harm has never been clearer, and it could benefit businesses greatly to demonstrate that their support for staff by talking about World Whistleblowers Day.

Employers regularly ask us how they can talk to employees about whistleblowing without creating alarm, or suggesting problems which may not exist. World Whistleblowers Day is a great opportunity to create a positive conversation around the arrangements they have in place, and why they are so important.

Here are some top tips from our Business Support team on how to use World Whistleblowers Day to increase levels of staff engagement on the subject of speaking up:

  • Circulate your policy with a word from your chief executive. Don’t have a policy yet? Contact us and we’ll help you write one
  • Appoint a whistleblowing champion who will flag fly for your arrangements and monitor the effectiveness of your whistleblowing arrangements. Remember to communicate their details in your staff newsletter/ on your intranet
  • Test employee confidence on whistleblowing by creating a survey, listening exercises or hosting focus groups. Our team can help you with these things if you wanted to explore options that are right for you
  • Train your staff – especially department heads and line managers who may be the first point of call for all kinds of queries and concerns
  • Create ‘FAQs’ and ‘How to’ guides for staff and people managers which bring your policy to life and clearly show who the best person to contact would be

Please tell us if and how you recognise World Whistleblowers Day so that we might build case studies of employers who are leading the way with making sure that malpractice and wrongdoing is avoided, or resolved quickly, and that whistleblowers are encouraged and protected.

By Stella Sutcliffe, Business Support Manager at Protect


Protect’s pilot examining whistleblowing culture in the Third Sector has found key weak spots it believes are symptomatic across many of the 168,000 charities in England and Wales.

Chief Executive, Liz Gardiner said, “The room for improvement in the Third Sector is well documented following the Oxfam and Save the Children scandals. But in recent weeks we have once again been reminded how vital the work of charities is – and how vital speaking up about wrongdoing is to keep us all safe.

She added, “We know charities are very well aware of safeguarding, but we wanted to assess their whistleblowing culture.”

A cohort of 20 mid to large sized charities took part in the pilot between October and January this year to test their whistleblowing culture. Self-assessing using Protect’s Whistleblowing Benchmark, the charities scored themselves across governance, staff engagement and effective operations.

The results, documented in Time to Transform: Insights from Protect’s Third Sector pilot found:

  • Despite over 80% of charities claiming to have a zero tolerance approach to whistleblower victimisation –  none monitored the risk of victimisation through any aftercare process to monitor wellbeing of staff who had raised concerns
  • Only 52% of charities differentiated between whistleblowing and grievances – making it much harder for staff to know where to go with concerns and the impact on the concern being properly dealt with
  • 86% of charities failed to offer whistleblowing training to staff receiving and acting on whistleblowing concerns

“Our findings on attitudes to keeping whistleblowers’ names confidential and on victimisation are revealing.  If whistleblowers are not given assurances about confidentiality, and if no action is taken when victimisation occurs, others will not be encouraged to speak up” said Protect’s Liz Gardiner.

Stephanie Draper, CEO at international development body, BOND, said, “Whistleblowing is an essential component of safeguarding, so it’s encouraging to see organisations taking action to understand how effective their whistleblowing systems are. Many organisations have, or are in the process of appointing whistleblowing champions and teams to ensure the right arrangements are in place for staff to speak up. This will help make staff feel safe and confident that any complaints or concerns raised will be dealt with appropriately and they will not be victimised.

She added, “Getting whistleblowing right starts with having good governance and policies, but it has to go further than that and this means providing training so staff know their responsibilities and by creating a culture where speaking up is championed.”

Time to Transform was shared with ACEVO, who issued a report ‘In Plain Sight’ last year which highlighted bullying in the third sector, and who are calling on the Charity Commission to do more to investigate bullying.

ACEVO Head of Policy, Kristiana Wrixon, said, “I welcome any work that is undertaken to strengthen whistleblowing processes in charities. The findings of the pilot are interesting, however the report looks at a small group of the largest charities by income, representing a tiny percentage of the sector, so generalisations cannot be made from this information alone. I hope that this report leads to further work that will support charities of all sizes that want to strengthen their whistleblowing practice.”

Protect hope to maximise the pilot findings and work with participants to spread the word about their positive experience and benefits of the Benchmark process, but want a wider scale pilot to help raise awareness amongst the 168,000 charities in England and Wales. Protect is also hoping to work more with smaller charities helping them to adopt good whistleblowing processes.

Read the report Time to Transform

#TimeToTransform
#100charities


Survey findings of 150 health care staff by frontline lobbying group for doctors, The Doctors’ Association has highlighted the shocking treatment of NHS doctors who dared to blow the whistle on inadequate PPE supplies, which featured on BBC Newsnight this week.

The survey respondents were made up of 25% of nurses and just under 25% foundation doctors, 10% were middle grade and just under 10% were consultants. A smaller number of responses were from midwives, physiotherapist paramedics, radiographers and speech and language therapists as well as porters and security staff.

Doctors’ Association UK Law and Policy Lead, Dr Jenny Vaughan, told BBC Newsnight, “These are people who had tried the right channels. They hadn’t just gone and tried to put things on social media because they were trying to be negative. These were people genuinely raising concerns who went to the people who should have listened and felt that they either couldn’t raise a concern or weren’t listened to. So they had to find another outlet because people are putting their lives on the line.”

Just under 50% of respondents have been told not to raise concerns or speak to the press regarding COVID-19 all PPE by trust management and senior colleagues. The survey found 75% of responses had concerns about not having access to PPE as outlined in PHE guidance for the setting they working, whilst 55% reported that they had not been bullied for raising concerns – but about a third did report bullying. This was most commonly by managers, trust management, senior colleagues and in some cases the senior executive of the hospital.

The survey found 50% of our respondents did not feel confident about raising concerns locally without fear of reprisal and the same amount had this fear about raising their concerns  publicly.

Protect Chief Executive Liz Gardiner said, “The survey findings from the DAUK survey paint an extremely varied picture of the speak up culture across Trusts in the UK. We have had many calls to Protect’s Advice Line from NHS workers with concerns over PPE and some NHS staff have told us they do not feel safe speaking up, or are not aware of what support channels exist.

“It is disappointing to hear that 50% of DAUK’s survey respondents did not feel confident about raising concerns locally, and that some staff have reported bullying by senior managers.  Trust leaders need to hear when things are going wrong and what their Freedom to Speak Up Guardians say about the importance of speaking up.  Failing to listen up can undermine the whistleblowing culture of the trust and ultimately this may endanger the safety of staff and patients.”

If an NHS worker has a whistleblowing concern, NHS staff can raise the matter internally at the Trust, speak to their Freedom to Speak Up Guardian (England only), or call the NHS Whistleblowing Advice Line SpeakUp for signposting information. For NHS workers in Scotland, they can call the Alert and Advice Line. For strategic advice on how and where they can raise their concerns further, in addition to legal advice as to what their rights are in doing so, they can call the Protect Advice Line.


Protect is calling on the HMRC to reinstate its fraud hotline for whistleblowers who are trying to raise public interest concerns about misuse of taxpayers’ money.

Protect, which handles around 3,000 whistleblowing cases to its Advice Line each year – has seen a spike in calls to its Advice Line in recent days on furlough fraud.  We are calling on HMRC to reopen its fraud line for whistleblowers who want to speak out on employers exploiting the Government’s furlough scheme.

HMRC have said its ‘telephone and postal contact are temporarily unavailable because of measures put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).’

Liz Gardiner, Chief Executive, Protect, said: “We are very disappointed HMRC has closed its fraud hotline for people to call and report furlough leave fraud: our experience is that this is a new emerging problem that needs to be tackled.

“Our Advice Line is taking many calls from people about furlough fraud – around 25% of our Covid-19 calls have been around this issue, and the trend is upwards. People have simply been told to work despite being furloughed and they obviously feel uncomfortable about this as its wrong – itis deceiving tax payers out of money. We appreciate the pressure HMRC are under but it may be shortsighted not to have an easy way for whistleblowers to report fraud.”

Information about furlough fraud can be reported via the HMRC online digital reporting service which is available by visiting www.gov.uk and searching ‘Report Fraud to HMRC’. HMRC is currently operating an online reporting tool designed to allow the public to disclose instances of any fraud for which HMRC is responsible, in this instance the Job Retention Scheme.

But Protect argue an online form is not ideal as many people are not comfortable using an online service which cannot give them reassurance about their confidentiality, and people cannot ask questions if they are unsure about something and need advice.

An HMRC spokesman said, “HMRC treats its duty of care to those who report fraud to us as a priority and we have a number of mechanisms set in place to ensure the safety of those individuals.”

HMRC have in place the following:

·Completion of this form (and under normal circumstances contacts made to our fraud reporting telephony service) is entirely anonymous unless the individual reporting wishes to provide contact details for further contact.

·Section 3 of the reporting form is designed to give insight into how widely known the information is and this is used in our assessments when reviewing any risk associated with acting upon information provided.

·All information sent to our fraud teams is sanitised before sharing with compliance/criminal intervention teams to remove any reference to a human source.

·HMRC operate a policy of “Neither Confirming Nor Denying” the existence of a human source in any of our activities.

Whistleblowing on furlough fraud is in the public interest and workers should not be deterred trying to do the right thing by speaking up to stop harm.

Protect’s recently published Principles for Recommended Practice: Better Regulators Guide recommends all regulators have in place a whistleblowing hotline.