The new Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO)
This bulletin provides an update from SPSO about:
- Changes to way whistleblowing concerns will be handled by the NHS
- The introduction of the Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO)
We want to provide this information to as wide an audience as possible, so please pass this bulletin on to any colleagues who may have an interest.
The Scottish Government is developing legislation which will see the introduction of a new role - The INWO.
Following the Francis report on The Freedom to Speak Up Review, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport announced that an Independent National Whistleblowing Officer would be established to provide independent and external review on the handling and outcome of whistleblowing cases.
A full public consultation on the proposals ran from November 2015 to February 2016. There was strong support for the INWO having statutory powers, as without these it was felt that the effectiveness of the role would be curtailed. Furthermore, there was a view that such powers would provide the INWO with credibility and would generate respect.
There was a recurring view that the INWO role should be hosted within the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). Since the end of 2017 we have been working closely with the Scottish Government, NHS Scotland and other key stakeholders on the detailed proposals in preparation for the legislation to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in 2018. We continue to work closely with key stakeholders to ensure that the INWO role is well considered and properly reflects the view and requirements of all those involved in improving patient safety.
The policy being developed by the Scottish Government is for the INWO to be given statutory powers to investigate whistleblowing concerns for individuals who are not satisfied with the handling of their concern or the outcome of the internal investigation. To support this process the INWO will publish National Whistleblowing Standards, which will set out requirements for local handling of whistleblowing concerns, to be implemented across NHS Scotland's services.
The Scottish Government is drafting legislation to facilitate these changes, and will be consulting on this in the autumn.
National Whistleblowing Standards for the NHS
To prepare for this new function, we have been working in partnership with a wide range of representatives from the sector to develop the draft National Whistleblowing Standards. The draft Standards consist of the Principles and a model Whistleblowing Procedure. The draft Principles state than an effective whistleblowing procedure is:
- focused on improvement;
- supportive to whistleblowers and all staff involved in the procedure;
- simple and timely;
- thorough, proportionate and consistent; and
- objective, impartial and fair.
The draft model Whistleblowing Procedure is intended to provide a quick, simple process with target timescales for resolving whistleblowing concerns early and locally. The whistleblowing process (which is yet to be finalised) suggests two opportunities to resolve whistleblowing concerns internally at early resolution and investigation stages. The focus will be on resolution at the earliest possible time, continuous improvement, best practice, recording, reporting and learning from whistleblowing cases.
The INWO will be the final stage in the model Whistleblowing Procedure. This will ensure whistleblowing cases are brought to a clear, fair and final conclusion in a reasonable timescale so that potentially vulnerable patients and staff are protected. Cases that come to the INWO will also be assessed against the National Whistleblowing Standards. This will form the basis for decision making around the handling of whistleblowing concerns by Boards and other NHS service providers.
Independent review of whistleblowing cases
In taking on this role of independent oversight of whistleblowing concerns, it is anticipated that the INWO will investigate the Board (or other employer's) handling of a whistleblowing concern, including the reasonableness of the decision and the outcome. It will also consider the individual's treatment, including signposting to the appropriate support and HR procedures. The INWO will also be able to consider whether, and to what extent, the case has been handled in line with the Standards.
It is anticipated that the INWO will also be able to:
- share information with other scrutiny and regulatory bodies, so they can take further action if they consider it appropriate;
- review the culture and approach to whistleblowing within an organisation, as evident from the handling of a case and the organisation's reported performance against national whistleblowing indicators; and
- provide national leadership through support and guidance for those involved in handling whistleblowing concerns in the NHS.
From discussions with the Scottish Government and other key stakeholders it has become clear that, to ensure continuity and consistency, strong consideration should be given to including primary care service providers within the scope of the INWO.
The Scottish Government and SPSO are actively engaging with primary care service providers to explore the issues and implications of including these services within the INWO remit. These discussions include consideration of when it would be appropriate to introduce this change.
The Scottish Government has also considered the arrangements for those working in adult health and social care services, as they increasingly work alongside NHS Scotland staff. The government is confident that appropriate systems and arrangements are already in place to support whistle-blowers, including a case review function delivered by the Care Inspectorate.
We are also engaging with other NHS stakholders to gather wider understanding of the potential implications of these proposals, and to share information ahead of public consultation.
Public consultation proposals
The Scottish Government are planning to consult on the legislation in the autumn, and we will be finalising the draft Standards for consultation at the same time. We will coordinate the feedback that we receive to ensure that the Standards are fully in line with the finalised legislation.
Links with the NHS PIN Policy
For staff that are directly employed by NHS Boards, there is already a Partnership Information Network Policy (PIN Policy) in place which covers whistleblowing, and forms part of each employee's terms and conditions. With the changes to procedures expected through the National Whistleblowing Standards, this PIN Policy will be amended to reflect the Standards requirements .
We are working closely with the Scottish Workforce Action Group (SWAG), who develop and approve PIN policies for the NHS, and they are currently working on a revised policy. This will apply across Scotland, and will be fully in line with the Standards. Members of the SWAG group are aware of the Standards, and have been involved in their development.
Timescales and next steps
It is anticipated that the public consultation on the legislation to bring the INWO powers to the SPSO will be in the autumn of 2018. We will carry out a public consultation on the draft National Whistleblowing Standards at the same time. Following consultation, there will be a period of review and amendment.
In the run-up to implementation, we will be providing support and assistance to organisations that are implementing the Standards, including advice on what will be expected by the INWO and how they can support staff in raising concerns.
We will provide another update in the autumn, once our public consultation is available.
If you have any questions or comments for the team involved in this work, please contact us at CSA@spso.org.uk