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NHS under fire over calls to free hotline for whistleblowers

More than 100 calls have been made to Scotland's free NHS whistleblower hotline in its first six months, but accountability campaigners have criticised the analysis as "meaningless" as it fails to show what positive changes these calls have made.

RAB WILSON: He has serious reservations about the hotline.
RAB WILSON: He has serious reservations about the hotline.

Since the National Confidential Alert Line was set up in April to allow NHS Scotland employees raise concerns about patient safety or malpractice, 128 cases were registered, with more than half considered matters of general NHS concern. The rest were private cases, such as contractual matters.

Of 74 calls of general concern, 35 related to patient safety, seven raised multiple concerns, six were about public safety, five were about ethical worries and four were about financial malpractice. There was one call about discrimination or harassment, one about abuse in care and one about workplace safety.

But significantly no details are available from the Scottish Government about any difference this has made to the NHS or if issues have been resolved to the whistleblowers' satisfaction.

Former psychiatric nurse Rab Wilson, who exposed a catalogue of errors surrounding the deaths of 20 patients in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, remains concerned that the numbers are, low citing "serious reservations" that he says have been ignored.

The launch of the phoneline also came in the wake of the Francis Inquiry, which uncovered "appalling" failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust in England.

Scottish ministers came under pressure to launch a whistleblowing line after the NHS Lothian waiting-lists scandal, when patients were removed from the 18-week waiting list after refusing to go to England for treatment.

Mr Wilson, of New Cumnock, who conducted a five-year battle in February last year for Ayrshire and Arran to release all its serious incident reports back to January 2005, said he had serious reservations about the helpline that have been "ignored".

He says people calling the line, managed by the whistleblowing charity Public Concern At Work, were simply referred back to their employers, the NHS.

Mr Wilson of Accountability Scotland said: "Other systems are measurable, the outcomes are there, transparent and reportable. At the moment we don't know what the hell is happening with the alert line.

"You phone them up to complain about something, they refer you back to your employer, the last place you would want to go."

He said in consultations he had suggested the Government adopt the ISO 9001 quality management system to try to ensure accountability and user satisfaction but he says the idea fell on deaf ears.

"The Government has gone for a stick-a-plaster-on-it cheapest option and we are left with this boorach of an alert line," he said.

In a consultation prompted by a group of MSPs the Scottish Government, NHS Boards and various unions are to be quizzed about his concerns that gagging orders are creating a climate of fear of speaking out.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "The alert line provides a channel where genuine whistleblowing concerns raised can be passed to health boards or regulators on behalf of the caller - again inspiring confidence to raise genuine whistleblowing issues without fear of recrimination.

"Our role is to put this safe space in place to assure NHS staff that issues they raise in confidence on the alert line will be directed to the appropriate regulatory and administrative authorities.

"We are absolutely clear that boards should act promptly and effectively on all legitimate concerns raised."

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

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