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‘Had a guide like this existed at Mid Staffs, lives could have been saved’

NHS whistleblower Helene Donnelly speaks about how the Preventing Whistleblower Victimisation Guide will help employers protect whistleblowers from abuse and why it is so vital for public safety and staff wellbeing that employers do so.  

I think for me being involved with creating the Preventing Whistleblower Victimisation Guide has been quite cathartic. Having had experience of speaking up and trying to raise concerns and working for the last nine years now as ambassador for cultural change and FTSU it feels fantastic to have been able to use my experience to help develop this. There’s a lot of information there that I’ve developed and experienced over those years and being able to contribute to this guide has been important and helpful for me personally. I really do hope that people will take the opportunity to read this and to really put it into practice because I think it is a helpful and very practical guide.  

I think the lack of practical guidance on how to set up good whistleblowing processes is one of the key problems we really have. No organisation out there has a policy that doesn’t say that it will prevent victimisation, that it will support people who come forward to speak up. But its putting that into practice and having those practical skills. What does that really mean, when it translates? I think this guide is the one of the first really that clearly sets that out. Its hugely valuable from that perspective.  

Certainly, reflecting on my own personal experience having been someone who spoke up and raised concerns at Mid Staffs brings home how important this guide is. Had a guide like this existed at Mid Staffs lives could have been saved. Had it been implemented, a lot of the issues that I experienced and others who supported me and who also raised concerns wouldn’t have experienced what we did and certainly negative experiences that patients and relatives had to endure would have been prevented. So that’s the real human impact of this and why it’s so important we get this right.  

Similarly, across all sorts of different organisations, even if there’s no necessary impact on safety, there’s always an impact on psychological safety and wellbeing of our workforces. It’s important that we focus in on that. Any organisation’s productivity is completely dependent on their workforce. If you have a culture where people feel safe, they’re psychologically safe, there’s good morale, there’s good support and crucially if people speak up about things that aren’t going right and want to prevent things from going worse then there’s always opportunity to learn and improve, hopefully this will keep people safe, this will improve productivity and prevent costly grievance processes and employment tribunals where really nobody wins.  

So, i think that’s the why, why it’s important 

The what and the how is brilliantly outlined for you in this guide. It’s a no brainer really to pick this up and implement it.  

Having worked as a FTSU Guardian and having called for and lobbied to have the role in all NHS organisation and beyond the NHS, it’s clear that having an advocate for workers to come to and raise concerns is vital. We’ve been able to evidence that it’s really working well, and that people are speaking up and utilising their Guardian.  

But also, it does present an opportunity for best practice and learning as well, across the NHS and elsewhere. 

Much of what we’ve learned through the FTSU Guardian role has been included in his guide.  

The risk assessment is helpful. It helps outline what victimisation and detriment looks like. Some of it can be insidious, and it’s quite difficult to put a finger on or to describe and that prevents people from coming forward, not only about their concerns but also if they’re feeling victimised because they can’t prove it or evidence it. So, it’s important to have that clarity.  

The step-by-step guide is also helpful. If you follow it you can’t really go wrong. However, it must be done in conjunction with the whistleblower so that they own this and feel empowered and supported.  

I think it’s also important to remember that for most of us who want to Speak Up or are in roles where we receive the concerns coming forward, we like to think we’d know what to do if this circumstance should occur. However, this is not as easy as it seems. When you do it and you face barriers and the routes and methods that should be there to support you fail you, where do you go next? Again, the guide to refer to can keep everyone on track and measure expectation of what’s to come.  

Alot of those speaking up experience the fear of what’s going to happen next. By adhering to the guide, you provide information about this, which can reassure the whistleblower and those who receive the concerns and prevent that fear from escalating and nip things in the bud before they become a bigger problem.  

Finally, the other important thing is to have designated training for managers and those who are going to receive concerns, whether that is an independent advocate or anyone in a leadership role. We all have a responsibility to receive concerns appropriately, but what does that look like exactly? Having designated training for managers and leaders is vital.  

This piece was adapted from a speech Helene Donnelly delivered at our preventing whistleblower victimisation webinar. You can see the full webinar here 

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