NHS whistleblowers have required counselling and medication and a quarter would not raise concerns again due to the stress and lack of support, a report found.

A review of existing policy at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde found “concerning” evidence of  a significant impact on the mental health of both whistleblowers and managers with little support provided.

It found  there was “no clear documented process” to highlight serious, urgent issues to the appropriate manager.

Healthworkers’ union Unison said staff were often labelled ‘trouble-makers’ with senior managers ‘defensive from the outset’.

Sixty percent of staff reported that their mental health was negatively impacted by whistleblowing with some requiring counselling or medication to cope with the stress of disclosures.

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The report said it was of concern that a quarter of staff stated that they would not raise concerns such as unsafe clinical practices again given their experiences, a figure which it said was likely to be higher as this information was only recorded if it was volunteered by staff.

NHS GGC carried out a retrospective three-year review of employees’ experiences of whistleblowing in advance of new national standards, which come into force this month.

Around a third of managers reported adverse effects on mental health with some asserting that they felt “accused” and unsupported. 

However, while managers reported that they had received support from bosses, this was not the experience of whistleblowers.

“The Review was unable to identify any systematic support provided by the health board for either group”.

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It comes after a doctor revealed she had suffered post-traumatic stress as a result of failed attempts to raise the alarm about problems with Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Dr Christine Peters, 46, a Clinical lead Consultant Microbiologist at the hospital revealed in June last year that she had been prescribed antidepressants, had taken three months of work and had suffered a “loss of confidence”.

Dr Peters accused the health board’s assertion it supported whistleblowers as “empty words”.

NHS GGC said it had already implemented a number of changes including automatic support for staff.

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Unison’s Regional Organiser Matt McLaughlin said, “Unison welcomes this paper and the Boards commitment to follow the updates national guidance. 

“However it will take more than a new policy for whistleblowers to feel valued within NHS GGC 

“The organisation is too defensive and staff who whistleblow often do so out of shear frustration that legitimate concerns are ignored – or worse, where the whistleblower is seen as a trouble maker. 

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde needs to embrace and welcome staff speaking out; rather than being defensive from the outset.

“Unison would encourage any member of staff who has concerns, to seek guidance from their union before submitting a Whistle-blowing concern.”

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Managers involved in whistleblowing processes reported that Executive Directors had been “parachuted” into their part of the organisation without warning or contextual briefing

The review made eight recommendations which include early access to psychological support  setting up of a database of all whistleblowing activity to ensure there is effective performance management and scrutiny of processes.

A spokeswoman for NHSGGC said: “We support all of our staff to speak up if they believe things are not working as they should. 

"We want to thank the whistleblowers, managers and those involved in investigating cases for taking part in the review and sharing their experiences, which we know may have been difficult.

"We welcome the findings of the review and accept its recommendations, some of which have already been implemented.

"Support is now automatically offered as part of the Whistleblowing process when an individual raises concerns.

"We also have Confidential Contacts, staff who are independent of normal management structures that whistleblowers can speak to and express concerns.

"We have developed education materials to inform staff on how to raise a concern and are adopting national training to support those involved in the process.

"We take all concerns raised through the NHSGGC Whistleblowing processes very seriously."