NHS Improvement and NHS England have published the first national, integrated whistle-blowing policy to help standardise the way organisations should support staff who raise concerns.

The new policy is structured to ensure that staff are encouraged to speak up if they have any issues and that organisations have a clear route to follow to address any concerns.

Central to this are new responsibilities for organisations to appoint their own Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, an independent and impartial source of advice to staff at any stage of raising a concern, and investigate any concerns not resolved quickly through line managers.

Recommended by Sir Robert Francis in his Freedom to Speak Up review, this policy contributes to the need to develop a more open and supportive culture that encourages staff to raise any issues of patient care quality or safety, NHS England said.

“This policy will help standardise the approach to whistleblowing across the NHS, so that we can embed continuous improvement into how the NHS works,” noted Kathy Mclean, Executive Medical Director at NHS Improvement. “I want NHS staff to feel that any concern raised is an opportunity to learn and improve care, and we will help NHS organisations to implement this policy and foster free and supportive staff cultures.”

“Whistleblowers are the smoke alarms of the NHS, and they're vital for patient safety and high-quality care,” Phil Hammond, NHS doctor, broadcaster, journalist and patient safety campaigner, previously told PharmaTimes. “We must embed a culture of transparency and accountability in the NHS, and make it safe for anyone – staff, patients and carers alike - to speak up knowing they will be heard”.

The Care Quality Commission appointed the first National Guardian for whistleblowers in the NHS, in the hope fostering an environment that encourages healthcare workers to speak up over sub-standard care, back in January.