A campaigner who helped expose a scandal at Edinburgh council has launched a call for a whistleblowing hotline for NHS staff.

Pete Gregson has lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament calling for a safer way for NHS workers to report mismanagement, safety concerns or bullying.

Mr Gregson, whose campaigning on issues including the the Edinburgh trams fiasco and the statutory notice scandal in the city led to a council hotline, said a current NHS helpline did not have investigatory powers.

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He is seeking support from the public to ensure the petition is considered with a deadline of Monday to beat the impending government purdah ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections.

His proposal would see concerns reported to the hotline taken directly to local NHS Boards by the hotline provider itself, with a national Whistleblowing Champion to ensure action is taken and pulication of an annual whistleblowing report.

Mr Gregson said his idea would replace the current NHS Scotland National Confidential Alert Line, which is a helpline only and he claimed is widely perceived as ineffectual.

The proposal has already found backing from a campaign group set up in January to promote openness in the Scottish NHS. Rab Wilson of Action for a Safe & Accountable People’s NHS, said :

“If all complaints within the NHS were taken as learning material we would reduce the cost of time taken to deal with patients and relatives who have found the need to raise formal complaints - as well as reducing the cost of litigation - and so I think the independent hotline would be cost effective in so many ways.

“NHS professionals are expected to raise issues which concern them but as the Staff Survey shows, few do for many reasons.”

Margaret Watt of Scotland Patients Association said: “The system that there is at present doesn’t protect patients. Staff feel frightened of speaking out - they are not allowed to.

The existing helpline doesn’t help anybody- it doesn’t help the staff and so it doesn’t help the patients either." She said a hotline could tackle problems early, avoiding expensive litigation and compensation claims and saving public money.

Mr Gregson said the hotline would allow staff to report problems such as perceived negligence, malpractice or ill treatment of patients, health and safety rules or laws being ignored, discrimination or bad management.

He added: "Last year’s Scotland Staff Survey showed 23 per cent of staff did not believe it was safe to speak up and challenge the way things were done if they had concerns about quality, negligence or wrongdoing by staff - only 57 per cent thought it was safe.

"In addition the hotline would allow staff to report bullying by managers and colleagues; Survey results indicate 15 per cent had experienced this."

He said an NHS hotline could mimic the success of an independent hotline set up at Edinburgh City Council, brought about in response to a similar petition.

This is run by an independent company and reports to the council's Governance, Risk and Best Value committee.

Cllr Jeremy Balfour, who helms that committee, said: "I believe the Whistleblowing policy gives greater protection to Council staff and the citizens of Edinburgh can feel more confident about what is going on behind closed doors. The scheme will only work well if local politicians scrutinise the workings of the scheme and hold senior staff accountable for their decisions.”

The council itself says its helpline, introduced in May 2014, has been a success. “Many of the recommendations that have resulted from investigations have led to amendments to policy, improvements to procedures and processes, the development and sharing of best practice and improved service delivery,” a report on the scheme concluded.****