Raising concerns frequently asked questions


06 / 07 / 2017

These questions and answers are regularly updated to reflect the nature of queries we receive from employers. If you have a question which is not already covered in this section please email us using the contact details found on the top right hand side of the page.



What do we mean by raising concerns?

Raising concerns, also referred to as whistleblowing, is the term used when a member of staff speaks up 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).

Raising concerns are different to 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 using other appropriate policies. Use our staff facing poster to help clarify the position to employers. 

Can NHS Employers get involved in local cases or individual issues?

No, NHS Employers is unable to get involved in local cases or individual issues as we are not a prescribed body. Our remit is to support NHS organisations to improve their raising concerns culture by representing employers as new policies are developed, communicating timely information and by providing targeted forums, tools and resources. 

What is the Public Interest Disclosure Act?

The Public Interest Disclosure Act  (PIDA) is the whistleblowing law. It gives employees legal protection by providing that employers should not victimise any employee who raises a concern internally or to a prescribed body.  PIDA 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. In line with 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.

Are all NHS organisations expected to have a whistleblowing policy?

All NHS organisations are expected to adopt the national Freedom to speak up: raising concerns policy for the NHS. The policy has been developed by NHS Improvement and is in the NHS Standard Contract. 

What do effective raising concerns arrangements look like?

All staff should understand their remit with regards to effectively raising and responding to concerns. The Committee on Standards in Public Life recommend the key principles of effective arrangements are as follows:

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

Should our policy apply to volunteers and contractors?

As the national policy states, anyone who works, or who has worked in the NHS (or for an independent organisation which provides NHS services) can raise a concern. The wider the scope of the workforce that the policy covers, the better. This includes agency workers, temporary workers, students, volunteers and governors.

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.

Must we use the word whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is a widely used, documented and understood term relating to raising concerns and is mentioned within PIDA. Continued cultural change around whistleblowing will continue to make the practice of raising concerns more acceptable and to remove the stigma which quite often prevents staff from speaking up.

Employers must continue to 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). 

What role should managers play in relation to raising concerns?

Employers should ensure that line managers are aware of the raising concerns policy and local arrangements as, without their support and involvement, it will be a challenging task to keep the arrangements alive across the organisation.

Effective 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.

What are the risks of ineffective arrangements?

Without a clear policy and 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 speaking up, they are likely to stay silent which denies the organisation the opportunity to deal with a potential serious problem timely and effectively. Importantly, raising concerns deters wrongdoing and raises the bar on standards and quality. 

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:

Can NHS staff seek 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 enquiries@wbhelpline.org.uk

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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