Speaking Up (or keep your head down and say nothing) by Alice Wilson and Graham Stewart

“Whistleblowing” :-

Alice W 1

is the act of drawing public attention, or the attention of an authority figure, to perceived wrongdoing, misconduct, unethical activity within public, private or third-sector organisations. Corruption, fraud, bullying, health and safety violation, cover-ups and discrimination are common activities highlighted by whistleblowers.”

Whistleblowing has some negative connotations but what does it really mean: how safe would you feel to raise concerns or speak out about issues that worried you?

Why would you want to speak up? We’ve all seen the headlines about Whistleblowers feeling they have been treated badly by employers for speaking up about concerns or heard others suggesting it’s easier and better to keep your head down and not get involved.

What if you do that – keep your head down and not get involved? What would you say if something happened that you think or know could have been avoided – would you just say “I could have told you that was going to happen?”

If you could tell something was going to happen, why don’t you?

Alice W 2Don’t we all have a responsibility to get involved in the NHS to ensure patient safety and high quality care ?

There are reasons why people don’t speak up, mainly because they don’t feel safe to do it. NHS Dumfries and Galloway’s job is to make it safe… not just talk about it being safe but genuinely to make it ok, to make people feel glad they had the courage to speak and to hear and act on the message.

First of all it’s important to understand when a concern becomes Whistleblowing or – to use the legal speak a “qualifying disclosure”. Put simply a qualifying disclosure is a concern raised by a member of staff where they have a genuine and reasonable belief of wrongdoing in one the following categories:

  • A criminal offence
  • A miscarriage of justice
  • An act creating risk to health and safety
  • An act causing damage to the environment
  • A breach of any other legal obligation or
  • Concealment of any of the above

We have all heard examples of where things have gone badly wrong in health and social care, resulting in serious injury or death.

Whistleblowing is a means to reduce the chances of something like this going undetected.

In many cases staff knew there was a problem or had a concern about safety, however the culture of their organisation meant they didn’t speak up.

Whistleblowing provides a mechanism to allow individuals to speak up about something they know is wrong or dangerous

Alice W 3By having two independent whistleblowing “champions” at hand staff can be assured that they can raise their concerns in private (which can be over a cup of coffee and ‘off-site’) whilst knowing their anonymity is fully protected.

 It doesn’t happen everyday.

Whistleblowing issues are not a daily occurrence; often staff concerns can be raised with their manager and resolved however you can also speak to your trade union or professional organisation for advice.

Whisltblowing is not an avenue to take simply because you disagree with your manager or feel you haven’t been listened to (there are other formal HR policies that apply in these situations). Whislteblowing is there to allow staff to raise concerns as highlighted above in a confidential manner so that issues around safety and security can be looked at to assess whether there are real concerns.

NHS Dumfries & Galloway also has two members of staff who you can go to for advice, that’s us and our contact details are:


Graham Stewart                                                                               Alice Wilson

graham.stewart@nhs.net                                                               alice.wilson@nhs.net

01387 244033                                                                                  01387 272789

What would make it safe for you?

If you feel safe to speak up that is really positive; in the last staff survey 57% of the staff who responded said they felt safe to raise concerns but that leaves 43% of the staff who responded who didn’t say they felt safe (Staff Survey return rate for the Board was 41%)

Tell us:

  • What makes speaking up safe?
  • What prevents you from speaking up

We’d like to hear from you, either directly or through someone else, if there are things we could do to help staff speak up

Alice Wilson is Deputy Nurse Director and Graham Stewart is Deputy Director of Finance at NHS Dumfries and Galloway

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