UK Government

Department of Health (National): Culture of fear and secrecy tackled head-on

Press Release   •   Oct 12, 2010 12:40 BST

A culture of fear and secrecy is rare in the NHS, but can deter staff from raising concerns about safety, malpractice or wrongdoing, which can lead to poor patient care and low staff morale.

To help prevent isolated failures such as those investigated at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley launched a consultation today to make changes to the NHS Constitution and its Handbook. The amendments will tighten the system so NHS trusts can’t suppress staff, and so staff will have a constitutional obligation to blow the whistle.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said:

“A public inquiry into the failings at Mid-Staffordshire is already underway. But it’s important that we don’t delay making changes to prevent such failures from happening again. The NHS Constitution must be brought up to date to enshrine the rights of staff.

“Staff should be working in an environment where they feel able to voice concerns and know that their concerns will be taken seriously. The changes we are consulting on take that a step further. Staff will be expected to raise concerns and employers must support them and investigate where necessary. That means better patient care and better staff morale.”

The consultation proposes three key changes:

• highlighting existing legal rights of all staff to raise concerns about safety, malpractice or other wrongdoing without fear of dismissal or other ramifications;

• introducing an NHS pledge that employers will support all staff in raising such concerns, responding to and where necessary investigating concerns raised; and

• creating an expectation that NHS staff will raise concerns about safety, malpractice or wrongdoing at work which may affect patients, the public, other staff or the organisation itself as early as possible.

This consultation follows significant progress already made on whistleblowing. On 25 June 2010 new guidance was published for the NHS, developed through the Social Partnership Forum (SPF) with expert support and advice from the independent whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work.

In addition, the NHS Staff Council has negotiated changes to the terms and conditions of service handbook for NHS staff covered by Agenda for Change, to include a contractual right and duty to raise concerns in the public interest.

Together, these changes enhance the protection available for staff and strengthen the current safeguards for those wishing to raise concerns.

Notes to editors

1. Anyone can respond to the public consultation, which is available here: You can follow the progress of the consultation on Twitter @DHgovuk

2. The consultation closes on 11 January 2011.

3. Whistleblowing guidance developed by the Social Partnership Forum and published on 25 June is

4. Changes to the terms and conditions of service staff handbook for NHS staff covered by Agenda for Change were published in a circular by NHS Employers on 13 September, here:


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