Frequently Asked Questions


11 / 04 / 2014

These FAQ's are continually updated to reflect the queries received from employers. If you have a question which is not already covered in this section please get in touch, our contact details can be found on the top right of the page.


Q1. What is whistleblowing?

Q2. What is the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)?

Q3. Are all NHS organisations required to have a policy?

Q4. What are good whistleblowing arrangements?

Q5. Who should be involved in the consultation of whistleblowing arrangements?

Q6. Should our policy apply to volunteers and contractors?

Q7. Must we use the word “whistleblowing”?

Q8. What role should line management play in whistleblowing arrangements?

Q9. What are the risks of ineffective arrangements?

Q10. Where can I find practical guidance on the implementation and review of whistleblowing arrangements? 

Q11. How can NHS staff get independent advice about raising a concern?


Q1. What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is the term used when a member of staff raises a concern about a possible risk, wrong-doing or malpractice that has a public interest aspect to it, usually because it threatens or poses a risk to others (e.g. patients, colleagues or the public).

Whistleblowing concerns are distinct from grievances, which by contrast are about the staff member’s own employment position and have no additional public interest. Employers should ensure this distinction is communicated clearly so that staff understand the difference and act accordingly.

Q2. What is the Public Interest Disclosure Act?

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) came into force in 1998 and is known in the UK as the whistleblowing law. The Act gives employees protection under the law by providing that employers should not victimise any employee who raises a concern internally or to a prescribed regulator.  The Act covers all workers including temporary agency staff, persons on training courses and self-employed staff who are working for and are supervised by the NHS. It does not cover volunteers. To follow good practice guidelines, employers should ensure their policy authorises all staff, not just health and medical professionals, to raise a concern, and it identifies who they can contact.

Employers should be mindful that where an individual is subject to a detriment by their employer for raising a concern or is dismissed in breach of PIDA, they can bring a claim for compensation. Awards are uncapped and based on the losses suffered.

Q3. Are all NHS organisations required to have a policy?

The Government expects all NHS organisations to have a whistleblowing policy. Please see Q4 for details of good practice guidance for the implementation and review of effective whistleblowing arrangements.

Q4. What are good whistleblowing arrangements?

The Committee on Standards in Public Life recommend the key principles of effective arrangements are as follows:

  • provide examples distinguishing whistleblowing from grievances
  • give staff the option to raise a whistleblowing concern outside of line management
  • provide access to an independent helpline offering confidential advice
  • offer staff a right to confidentiality when raising their concern
  • explain when and how a concern may safely be raised outside the organisation (e.g. with a regulator)
  • provide that it is a disciplinary matter (a) to victimize a bona fide whistleblower, and (b) for someone to maliciously make a false allegation.

Q5. Who should be involved in the consultation of whistleblowing arrangements?

Employers should consult on the arrangements with staff, managers and unions; this will provide you with an opportunity to think through policy messages, any foreseeable issues arising and the language of the policy. As a guide, issues for consultation should broadly cover:

  • the risks the organisation faces
  • the importance of the distinction between whistleblowing concerns and grievances
  • experience where concerns were raised and were not
  • the factors which may deter employees from raising concerns
  • how to minimize misunderstanding or misuse
  • how the policy relates to the values and ethics of the organisation
  • the role of line and senior management in the policy
  • the availability of advice
  • the communication strategy.

Q6. Should our policy apply to volunteers and contractors?

As a general guide, the wider the scope of the workforce that the policy covers, the better. Good practice suggests that the policy should apply to all those who work for you or with you, whether full-time or part-time, self-employed, employed through an agency or as a volunteer.

Employers should consider how best to approach the work of contractors, two options are (a) to establish that the subcontractor has their own effective whistleblowing arrangements or (b) that the subcontractor agrees to promote the organisation’s whistleblowing contacts to its own staff where the concern relates to a threat or risk to the organisation. Legal advice should be taken on how the organisation can best achieve this within the contractual arrangements with the subcontractor.

Q7. Must we use the word “whistleblowing”?

Cultural changes are needed to redefine the term 'whistleblowing', making the practice of raising concerns more acceptable and to remove the stigma which quite often prevents staff from speaking up.

Employers must challenge the perception of the term 'whistleblowing' which can often be seen as purely a mechanism for staff to report concerns outside of the organisation (e.g. to the media). Consulting with staff, managers and unions will provide you with an opportunity to review the language of the policy. Some organisations prefer to call their policies ‘Speak Up’ or ‘Raising Concerns’ rather than referring to whistleblowing.

Q8. What role should line management play in whistleblowing arrangements?

Employers should ensure that line management are actively engaged in the whistleblowing arrangements as, without their support and involvement, it will be a challenging task to keep the arrangements alive across the organisation.

Good arrangements should give the clear message that if a member of staff has a whistleblowing concern the organisation hopes he or she will feel able to raise it with their line manager. Where the individual does not feel this is an option or a sensible course (for example because the issue may implicate the manager), or if the concern has been raised locally but remains unaddressed, the message should be that the concern can safely be raised with a designated officer in the policy. 

All line managers and designated officers should be trained in issues to do with handling the concerned employee and should be briefed on:

  • the value and importance of an open and accountable workplace
  • how to handle concerns fairly and professionally
  • how to protect staff who raise a genuine concern and where staff can get help or refer a concern
  • how to manage expectations of confidentiality
  • the importance of an alternative to line management if the usual channels of communication are blocked
  • how to brief their staff on arrangements.

Q9. What are the risks of ineffective arrangements?

Without clear arrangements which offer staff safe ways to raise concerns, it is difficult for an organisation to effectively manage the risks it faces. Unless staff have confidence in the arrangements, they are likely to stay silent and such silence denies the organisation the opportunity to deal with a potential serious problem. Importantly, whistleblowing deters wrongdoing and raises the bar on standards and quality. 

Q10. Where can I find practical guidance on the implementation and review of whistleblowing arrangements?

There are two key guidance documents employers can refer to when implementing or reviewing whistleblowing arrangements:

Q11. Can NHS staff get independent advice about raising a concern?

Yes, all staff who work within the NHS and Social Care can seek free, independent and confidential advice from the National Whistleblowing Helpline. 

The helpline number is 08000 724 725, advice can also be sought via email at

The helpline is available weekdays between 08.00 and 18.00 with an out of hours answering service on weekends and public holidays.

Additional guidance and support has also been provided for staff by a number of the Professional Regulatory Bodies, as follows:

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has also produced guidance for health and care staff about how you can contact CQC if you do not feel able to report your concern internally or if you feel your concern has not been acted upon.

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