NHS whistleblower line dubbed ‘a waste of time’

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, one of the NHS' main facilities in Scotland. Picture: TSPL
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, one of the NHS' main facilities in Scotland. Picture: TSPL
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A HOTLINE set up so NHS staff in Scotland can raise their concerns about bad practice in their workplace has been branded “a waste of time” by campaigners.

The National Confidential Alert Line for NHS workers was launched in April and in its first 40 days received 34 calls from workers in Scotland, and 19 from people in other parts of the UK.

But campaigners representing whistleblowers said the line does not help solve the problem of bullying in the NHS, which was at the heart of the issue.

Dr Kim Holt, from Patients First, said: “It is a complete waste of time. We have tried it out a few times. The people who called found it was hopeless.

“People who call are being told ‘tell your manager, speak to your union’. They don’t have any power, so all they can do is advise you.”

Dr Holt was one of four doctors who raised concerns about the service at St Ann’s Hospital in north London, where abuse victim Baby Peter was treated days before his death. She said she was subject to intimidation and threats, and offered a deal to go with a pay-off and gagging clause, which she refused to sign.

She is set to speak on the subject of “patterns of retribution against whistleblowers” at a conference on whistleblowing organised by the Scotland Patients Association taking place next week in Edinburgh.

Speaking to The Scotsman ahead of the event, Dr Holt said the group had spoken to health secretary Alex Neil before the Scottish hotline was set up and had said that they did not think it would solve the problem. ­Patients First represents health professionals who have raised concerns and found themselves the subject of bullying or other problems.

“I have personally suffered, but I hear the same stories from lots of people,” Dr Holt said. “Our biggest concern is bullying. Bullying is rife in the NHS and that is in England and in Scotland.”

Dr Holt said they had other concerns around the use of gagging clauses to stop people speaking out when they leave the NHS and other negative consequences on their careers.

She has been collecting the personal stories of staff across the UK on their experiences of whistleblowing to try to highlight the problem.

“We have a nurse who was concerned about a patient on the ward she worked on and whether she was going to get some care. So she phoned up on her day off to speak to the ward manager to say: ‘Can I check that everyone is aware that this [care] needs to happen?’

“She got called into the office and got shouted out and now suffers post traumatic stress,” Dr Holt said. The group will meet Mr Neil again next week in the hope of addressing some of their concerns.

Mr Neil said: “We already have robust whistleblowing policies in place and expect health boards to listen to staff and ­ensure that any concerns raised are properly considered and, if necessary, investigated.”