Health secretary Alex Neil insisted the free, confidential hotline, which goes live today and is being piloted over the next year, will allow NHS staff to report fears “safely and confidentially”.
It will be delivered by Public Concern at Work, an independent organisation, which the SNP government says will ensure impartiality in recording reports of bad practice in hospitals and health services.
Complaints by NHS staff will be passed on to employers or health service regulatory board bosses for full investigation, ministers have said.
It follows the Francis Inquiry in England, which uncovered “appalling” failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, where substandard care was said to have contributed to the deaths of up to 1,200 patients.
Scottish ministers came under pressure to launch a whistleblowing line following the NHS Lothian waiting lists scandal, when patients were removed from the 18-week waiting list after they refused to travel to England for treatment.
Mr Neil yesterday pledged the scheme would hand extra protection to NHS staff. He said: “It is important that all NHS workers feel that they can raise any concerns they may have safely and confidentially, and, following the Francis Inquiry, be reassured that health boards will listen.
“All areas of concern must be investigated and lessons will be learned to ensure that the NHS in Scotland is providing the best possible service to patients.”
Campaigners and opposition MSPs called for the service to be properly resourced, with enough staff to deal with complaints made by NHS workers.
Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, warned the service could be “overwhelmed” by complaints from staff, and she called for an audit of the line after the year-long pilot. She said: “It’s a wonderful idea, but we need to know whether it will be a service that’s staffed properly rather than just a phone line for people to leave messages.
“All the calls will be important, so we can’t just leave any. We should have an audit of how many calls are made, what type they were and what’s needed.”
Labour’s public health spokesman Richard Simpson, a former GP, said the hotline should have been introduced years ago. He said: “I hope that they make sure it’s properly resourced and that all staff are informed about their rights to call it.
“We can’t be complacent in Scotland, as we’ve been waiting years for this whistleblowers’ line and if we’ve had it before now, we might have uncovered the NHS waiting lists scandal in Lothian earlier.”
There is existing legal protection for staff raising concerns about corruption and malpractice at work without fear of reprisal under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. However, doctors’ leaders have suggested NHS whistleblowers need greater protection to prevent a Mid Staffordshire-style crisis in Scotland.
A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association Scotland said: “Our own research shows us that doctors are often not aware of local whistleblowing policies and where they do have concerns, they are afraid to raise them as they fear that it will affect their job or career.