Safety campaigners’ letter 10 February 2016 to the Times about government inaction on NHS whistleblowing, and measures required


Whistleblower Law

The Times, February 10, 2016

Sir, Tomorrow is the anniversary of Sir Robert Francis’s report into how NHS whistleblowers are treated. Since its publication there has been no evident, meaningful change. To our knowledge, not a single sacked whistleblower has been found comparable re-employment. Not a single trust director has been reprimanded under the fit and proper persons regulation. Sir Robert recommended a system of “guardians” to act independently and to help to protect whistleblowers. Controversially, the part-time national guardian is overseen by the Care Quality Commission and has a restricted remit and no statutory powers. NHS bodies have also appointed mostly internally to local guardian posts. Injustices continue, with particular impact on “protected” groups. We urgently need the following: an independent body, reporting to parliament, with powers to investigate and remedy poor whistleblowing governance by public bodies; enforcement of effective investigation of concerns and an appeal mechanism against ineffective local investigations by employers; full reform of whistleblower protection legislation; reform of NHS disciplinary processes and fully independent appeal panels, to discourage kangaroo courts; managerial regulation to apply to all grades of managers; interim financial relief for whistleblowers who are seriously struggling, pending establishment of NHS England’s re-employment scheme, which is many months away.

We urge the health committee to consider our proposals and to hold hearings on whistleblowing.

Professor Sir Brian Jarman

Julie Bailey

Dr Heather Wood

Dr Stephen Bolsin

Dr Phil Hammond

Dr Kim Holt

Professor Narinder Kapur

Dr Minh Alexander

Lady Maha Yassaie

Dr Kevin Beatt

Professor Mala Rao

Amanda Pollard

Dr Otto Chan

Professor Charles Vincent


Cross reference this item to

  1. Edna’s law at



2. Recommendations by Prof David Lewis, Professor of Employment Law and researcher on whistleblowing.

Professor Lewis was Robert Francis’ lead researcher on the Freedom To Speak Up Review.

Four days after the Freedom To Speak Up Review was published, Prof Lewis wrote on 15 February 2015:

“The Guardian has a laudable track record of supporting whistleblowing. However, in commenting on the impact of the Francis report on the culture of speaking up in the NHS (Editorial, 12 February), you demonstrate a rather conservative approach to legislative reform. First, there is no mention of possible criminal sanctions. Citizens who break the Official Secrets Act commit an offence, so why shouldn’t those who victimise people raising concerns in the public interest? TheProtection from Harassment Act can be invoked if the narrow definition of harassment is fulfilled, but, in my opinion, outlawing any form of retaliation against whistleblowers would send out a valuable message about what society expects.

Second, you do not point out that only “workers” are covered by our whistleblowing legislation. However, it is clear that those who are in a position to raise concerns may not have this status – for example, patients and their families. Other countries now recognise the role that the public can play in exposing wrongdoing; in this important respect, the UK no longer provides an international model.
Professor David Lewis
Director, Whistleblowing research unit, Middlesex University”

Prof Lewis’ further recommendations were outlined by an article on 18 September 2016:

“Among the many changes he suggests are the outlawing of discrimination against whistleblowers at the point of hiring and making retaliation against whistleblowers a criminal offence. Prof Lewis also believes there is a case for establishing a specialist body such as a Public Interest Disclosure Agency. Such a body might receive disclosures, arrange for their investigation by an appropriate authority and ensure that advisory and counselling services are available, protect whistleblowers from reprisals…”

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