Andy Shettle, chief product officer of ER Tracker, Selenity, offers his thoughts on how technology can help whistleblowers in the NHS.
The accountability and transparency of public sector organisations, such as the NHS is an essential part of maintaining trust. However, in recent years a wider access to information, the prevalence of social media and a greater public need for transparency has meant that whistleblowing cases have become more prominent.
Whistleblowing, also known as ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’ is when an employee reports suspected wrongdoing. It’s an important part of safeguarding the effective delivery of public services and ensuring value for money. Not only does it protect and enhance the freedom of employee expression but it also contributes to a healthy working culture and the efficient running of public sector organisations.
Although employees are best placed to raise concerns, after all they will be the first people to know of any risks, staff can often fear speaking out. In some isolated instances doing so can lead to personal and professional consequences for the individuals that call out misconduct. In fact, last month the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) published a paper calling for the creation of an independent office to protect whistleblowers.
However, some sectors have adopted their own set of regulations, the NHS for instance standardises the way it supports staff through its Freedom to Speak Up policy. In fact, last week it announced a new dedicated support system for employees who had already raised concerns on unsafe practice. However, there is still some ambiguity surrounding best practice, especially for public sector employers who are often put under the spotlight. NHS managers have a key role to play when navigating serious issues such as whistleblowing cases, here are some practical steps for consideration.
Tapping into technology
Traditionally, the NHS has relied on “hotlines” such as the National Whistleblowing Hotline or the NHS Whistleblowing Helping, where employees can anonymously leave details of incidents or behaviour that they felt could be classified as misconduct. Yet, developments in HR case management software can help NHS managers to keep solid records. Allowing them to keep track of behaviour and maintain a healthy work culture, while self-regulating.
It’s best practice for NHS managers to document whether the whistleblower has requested confidentiality as well as manage their expectations in terms of what action and/or feedback they can expect and set timescales for next steps and updates. Organisations should look to record the number of whistleblowing disclosures they receive and keep records of the date and feedback provided to whistleblowers. Alongside documenting decisions or actions taken following the voicing of concerns.
Having the right tools and processes in place is critical when dealing with these sensitive issues. Not only does it provide employees with the confidence to put forward concerns but it also ensures that organisations log and monitor them appropriately.
Automating for accuracy
Utilising cloud-based tools can help to reduce administrative processes as well as providing NHS managers with the data needed to make informed decisions. On top of that, the data generated by the system can help HR teams in the NHS to identify common features within cases and when to intervene to reduce further whistleblowing cases. Analysing data in this way also levels the playing field for employees, by ensuring that everyone follows the same stages, steps and procedures, and are treated equally.
Automated tools also help HR teams in the NHS by improving accuracy and reducing the potential for human error, by ensuring that information is automatically fed into the appropriate HR or payroll system. This is not just about reducing the administration involved in data entry, these solutions also provide a vital audit trail to help resolve queries on either side.
Identifying patterns of disclosure
Monitoring and tracking whistleblowing cases is only part of the process, to really get ahead organisations must examine the data – providing insights that help to proactively identify issues. For instance, if multiple whistleblowing concerns are raised against a specific department, the employee relations team will be able to see this and investigate accordingly. Taking a proactive approach not only allows the NHS to get ahead of the issue but also implement additional resources if needed. Viewing whistleblowers as an early warning system can help the NHS and other public sector organisations to address issues before they escalate.
Ultimately, there are no laws requiring public sector organisations to have whistleblowing policies in place or to log and record the number of concerns raised. However, as an employer it’s good practice to create an open, transparent and safe working environment where workers feel able to speak up. By having clear policies and procedures in place, organisations demonstrate their commitment to listening to the concerns of employees and getting ahead of issues before they arise.