NHS England says it has taken steps to improve support for whistleblowers in primary care.

New guidelines have been drawn up in response to a recommendation that principles laid out in Sir Robert Francis' Freedom to Speak Up report be adapted for the sector, recognising that smaller work settings can present challenges around anonymity and conflicts with employers.

Under the guidelines, NHS primary care providers have a year to name an individual, who is independent of the line management chain and is not the direct employer, as the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, able to raise awareness of how concerns can be reported and support staff who do so.

Also, included is an emphasis on NHS primary care providers to be proactive in preventing inappropriate behaviour, like bullying or harassment, or discrimination towards staff who raise a concern.

"Safety in primary care depends on listening to, and acting on, concerns raised. This new guidance will help ensure that if someone witnesses a risk to patient safety, they can speak out without reprisal and confident that effective action will be taken," commented Neil Churchill, NHS England Director for Patient Experience.

Publication of the new guidelines follows NHS England's move to become a 'prescribed person' earlier this year, providing a mechanism for primary care service staff working at GP surgeries, opticians, pharmacies and dental practices to raise concerns about inappropriate activity directly with the organisation.

The Prescribed Persons Order 2014 sets out a list of over 60 organisations and individuals that a worker may approach outside their workplace to report suspected or known wrongdoing.

NHS Improvement and NHS England published the first national, integrated whistle-blowing policy to help standardise the way organisations should support staff who raise concerns back in April, to help develop a more open and supportive culture that encourages the reporting of issues regarding patient care quality or safety.