The number of whistleblowers bringing forward complaints among NHS and care home staff has plummeted in one year by 16 per cent – to under 7,500 – according to figures released by the National Audit Office.
The figures are revealed in a report on the Care Quality Commission which shows fewer whistleblowers are coming forward despite an increase in patients and their relatives contacting the organisation to raise fears about treatment in the NHS and care homes.
The report reveals that the Care Quality Commission received 153,000 complaints that it classified as relating to safeguarding issues and 7,452 contacts from whistleblowers.
The collapse in reporting by whistleblowers follows a report by Robert Francis QC to Jeremy Hunt which was highly critical of the way some had been treated after they made a complaint.
In 2015, Francis reported widespread severe victimisation of staff by senior management when they spoke up for patients. His most substantial recommendation was for a National Guardian to protect staff. This led the CQC to create a part time post with no powers. The appointee, Dame Eileen Sills, quit before starting.
Francis recognised that sacked whistleblowers are blacklisted and recommended a re-employment scheme but nothing seems to have come of it.
However The Commission despite a budget cuts has performed well in passing information to hospitals and care homes of complaints within one day – meeting its targets of 95 per cent – but not so good in checking up whether the care home or hospital had taken action.
The CQC report says : “During 2016-17 and quarter one 2017-18, while the Commission met its key performance indicator for referring safeguarding alerts to the safeguarding authority, it did not meet the indicator for taking further action, although performance is improving.
The Commission met its internal target for passing on 95% of whistleblower enquiries to inspectors within one day during most of 2016-17, but missed its target in March, April and May 2017. The Commission stated that this was due to the introduction of a new operating model in its National Customer Service Centre. Performance was above target in June 2017.”
The CQC is also taking more enforcement action after it received complaints that patients could be at risk.
The report says: “For 15% of safeguarding alerts, inspection staff took enforcement action, and for 11% of whistleblowing enquiries, they carried out a responsive inspection or brought forward a planned inspection. Most frequently, inspectors noted the issue for future inspections (47% of whistleblower enquiries and 29% of safeguarding alerts).”