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Have you identified the Whistleblowing Guardian for your GP Practice?

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Have you identified the whistleblowing guardian for your GP Practice?

Whistleblowers are generally accepted by the public as heroes: people that protect society and the greater good with little concern for themselves. However, questions that will undoubtedly be raised about the recent revelations and allegations surrounding abuse of youths in football clubs will include why no one in football's management structure and huge employee base spoke up before now.

Why wasn't there a whistleblower prepared to tell all and stop the abuse in its tracks? The reason is because whistleblowers are often seen as some kind of pariah by their peers. They are considered to be untrustworthy, have been bullied, looked over for promotion, and hounded out of work.

A whistleblower's life left in ruins

There are many stories of whistleblowers in the NHS and GP practices. Most of these whistleblowers see their careers eventually destroyed.

One such example is that of Dr Raj Mattu, who was an internationally recognised cardiologist when he spoke out about issues at the University of Warwick which he considered to be putting patients at risk and had led to at least two unnecessary patient deaths. From that moment on, Mattu was the subject of what can only be described as an incessant witch hunt.

In the decade following his whistleblowing act, he was the subject of 200 complaints. He had been suspended from duty. All of the complaints were found to be false, but the ordeal was enough to make him ill and depressed. He was sacked in 2010 on the basis of being 'unmanageable'.

Guardians to protect whistleblowers in GP practices

There have been policies and procedures put into place in attempts to ensure that whistleblowers remain anonymous. However, the majority of GP practices are so small that anonymity is virtually impossible. In the view of NHS England, the answer to this conundrum is for every GP practice to appoint a 'Freedom to Speak Up guardian'. This must be done by 2017.

What is the role of the Freedom to Speak Up guardian?

The role of your Freedom to Speak Up guardian (already being called the 'whistleblowing guardian') is to provide a person that employees can approach with their concerns without fear of recrimination.

Who can be your whistleblowing guardian?

Your whistleblowing guardian cannot be someone within the management structure of your practice. He or she cannot be the direct employer – a common reason for people not speaking up.

What policies must your practice have in place?

As well as having a whistleblowing guardian in place, you will also need to produce whistleblowing policies that are in line with the guidance provided by NHS England in its Freedom to Speak Up in Primary Care documentation.

Will the whistleblowing guardian scheme work?

If the experiences of Chris Hall – the Freedom to Speak Up guardian at Hounslow and Richmond Community NHS Trust − are anything to go by, the scheme could work. However, it's clear that he is benefiting from guardian training and strong management-supported policies. Perhaps this last point is the most important. The reason that so few whistleblowers come forward is the very real fear of being bullied, harassed and hounded until forced to leave the career they love. For the whistleblowing guardian scheme to work, one has to wonder how the guardian will be protected from a similar fate.

What do you think? Has your practice appointed a whistleblowing guardian? Do you have whistleblowing policies in place? We'd love to hear about your experiences – feel free to email us so we can share your successes.

eSupplies Medical is a trading name of Williams Medical Supplies Ltd, a DCC business