Spike in calls to Scotland’s NHS whistleblowing hotline

The number of Scottish NHS staff contacting a whistleblowing hotline to raise concerns over issues such as patient safety has more than doubled in the past six months.

Between last August and January this year a total of 49 people working for the health service phoned the Whistleblowing Alert and Advice Line, a report prepared for ministers shows. This was more than double the 20 calls in the previous six months, and is the second highest number the service has received in a single period since it was set up in April 2013.

Between August 2014 and July 2018 the number of calls never exceeded 28 over a six-month period, suggesting that NHS staff across the country have suddenly started to raise more issues.

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Of the 49 health service workers who contacted the hotline, 34 were raising a “public interest concern” such as a possible risk to patient safety, financial wrongdoing or poor working practices.

Doctors are at the "brink of breaking point" to ensure patient care, according to a stark warning from the doctors' regulator. Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

The majority of these (20 out of 34) said they had already raised their concern with senior staff, with some feeling it had been “ignored” or reporting “victimisation” as a result of their actions. Another 14 callers raised what was defined as “private matters” such as an employment or HR issue, while the final call was not classified.

Not all callers declared which health board they worked for, but of those that did, the highest number were from NHS Highland, with seven staff making contact over the six-month period.

The health board came under fire in September last year after a group of senior clinicians claimed there had been a culture of bullying and suppression of criticism for at least a decade.

Holyrood’s opposition parties described the rise in calls as “deeply disturbing” and called for Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to do more to address NHS staff concerns and morale.

The Scottish Conservatives pointed out that the statistics had been published on the government’s website on Thursday afternoon, just before the Easter holiday weekend.

The party’s health spokesman, Miles Briggs, said: “This is an alarming rise in whistleblowing incidents, which suggests there are problems that need to be addressed in our NHS. The fact that this news appears to have been sneaked out by the SNP on a holiday is also cause for concern.

“The public rightly want transparency from government and public bodies – but this looks like the SNP trying to avoid another bad headline.”

His Labour counterpart Monica Lennon said: “While it is to be welcomed that more people feel confident enough in the system to come forward, this spike has to be seen as a cause for concern.”