MPs are calling for the creation of an independent office to protect whistleblowers after a report found existing UK laws are leaving staff who speak up exposed to abuse by their employers.
The paper, published by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on whistleblowing, detailed the serious personal and professional costs associated with calling out wrongdoing.
Evidence gathered found that whistleblowers often face a serious backlash from employers when they blow the whistle. Employers (and in some cases employees) can act aggressively and without any moral compass when it comes to protecting their position or business. Yes, we know there can be disgruntled employees or ex-employees that can make vexatious false allegations but on the balance, most whistle blowers have a legitimate reason for lifting the lid on bad or illegal practice.
Some examples included:
- Facing false criticism by employers,
- gagging orders,
- pay cuts or job losses,
- character assassination leading to ruined reputations,
- blacklisting across their sector
- expensive legal disputes.
This kind of retaliation also affected the mental health of respondents, with some facing financial ruin and other trying to kill themselves.
The report highlighted that “Despite the undisputed benefits to society, there remains a backlash by organisations towards whistleblowing, resulting in stigmatisation and victimisation of whistleblowers,”.
Their recommendations also include a ban on the often- used non-disclosure agreement, referred to as “gagging orders” or confidentiality agreements. These are basically a means of silencing or removing a person from the business but at a cost which is usually much less than it would have cost had the matter been dealt with through the legal process. MPs also want an urgent review of the legal aid available to whistleblowers and protection extended to all members of the public, as current laws only safeguard staff who speak up against their employers.
In the UK, the only legal protection currently granted is through the Public Interest Disclosure Act. While Pida was the first of its kind in the EU when it was launched in 1998, the APPG’s report said it has crucially failed to protect those who speak up and requires a “radical overhaul”.
Some sectors, including financial services and the NHS, have adopted their own set of regulations, but they attracted significant criticism by the whistleblowers surveyed in the report.
Henrietta Hughes, a national guardian for the NHS, said the speak up programme has fielded 19,000 cases over the past two years, and saved patient’s lives. “I can already see the difference this is making in the NHS, but I call on leaders to join me in taking further actions to make speaking up business as usual.”
However, there is still a long way to go in the NHS and this cascades out to Social Care providers as well. It is well known that the staff turnover rates in the industry are extremely high and we know that Non- Disclosure Agreements are often used especially when removing a senior member of staff.
Some believe the City’s watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, is only paying lip service to whistleblower support, lacks transparency over its process and fails to protect the anonymity of those who speak out. At least one whistleblower praised the NHS Freedom to Speak Up programme, though others said there was a lack of support and claimed its guardians were primarily human resources staff interested in a “stepping-stone” for their careers.
Whatever the outcome, Whistleblowers in Health and Social Care have blown the lid on more than one national scandal and so without them Winterbourne View may still be caring for vulnerable adults with Learning Disabilities – that a frightening prospect. So, any reform that encourages and then protects whistle blowers can only be a good thing.
We would remind all providers to review their whistleblowing Policies and Procedures and check if they are effective and fit for purpose.
Find out more about W&P’s CQC Compliance Services by following this link or call our team on 01305 767104.