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Trusts and NHSE ‘neglecting whistleblower training’

Published on: 18 Apr 2024

Trusts and NHS England are failing to prioritise training for senior leaders on listening to whistleblowers — despite repeated findings of serious concerns going unheard — the National Guardian’s Office has said.

The Guardian’s Office — set up by the government to ensure whistleblowers and other staff raising concerns are properly listened to — made the claim in its written evidence to an inquiry into NHS leadership, performance, and patient safety.

The Commons health and social care committee is considering regulation of NHS leaders and managers, among other issues, including progress made on the 2022 report for ministers by General Sir Gordon Messenger. 

The NGO’s evidence, published on Wednesday, said: “In our opinion, there has been little progress on recommendations from the Messenger Review to date…

“The NGO has developed, in collaboration with [NHSE], three e-learning modules (Speak Up, Listen Up, Follow Up) which are freely available for anyone who works in healthcare. We have recommended to the sector that these modules should be a minimum standard for all staff and be made mandatory.

“Although accessible to all, many organisations have not adopted them, and NHS England has not prioritised these across the system.”

The NGO also called for NHS leaders to be more “accountable for listening up and following workers’ concerns”. It revealed it had told the Department of Health and Social Care it should create a compulsory register of board directors, which would require them to comply with freedom to speak up responsibilities and policies and to “ensure they have the right level of training and development to support… ‘speaking up’ in their organisations”.

Meanwhile, the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, admitted in its evidence to the inquiry that its members feel professional regulation of senior leaders is “now inevitable”.

The topic has come under the spotlight again following the Lucy Letby murders, amid suggestions leaders had been told of concerns about the nurse before action was taken.

The Confederation’s submitted evidence said: “Regulation needs to be against a clearly stated and understood set of standards which is set out as a ‘code of practice’ for some professions.

“Much work has been done on variations of this approach over the years in the NHS across the UK, and it is important that any new regulator moves quickly to propose and consult upon these standards.

“Many leaders respond positively to this discussion of standards and see their formalisation via a regulator as a reinforcement of the professionalism of the role of leaders in health and social care.”

A previous survey by the trade union Managers in Partnership found 49 per cent of respondents supported, or strongly supported, regulation; but more than 60 per cent of managers were not confident it would be implemented in a “fair, independent and proportionate” way.

HSJ has contacted NHSE and the DHSC for further comment.