Public policy on whistleblowing seems to be moving into a new phase. After extensive changes to the legislation designed to protect individuals in 2013 (see our briefing for a summary) the Government is now placing increasing emphasis on how organisations respond when information about malpractice is disclosed to them.
The health sector provides the most newsworthy examples of this trend. The review by Sir Robert Francis into whistleblowing in the NHS published last month includes 20 groups of recommendations, including the appointment of “Freedom to Speak Up Guardians” in all NHS organisations (see our posting herefor further details). A few weeks later a report led by Kate Lampard set out the general lessons to be learnt from the individual Jimmy Savile sex abuse investigations at various NHS hospitals. Among other things, it looked into how changes could be made so that staff felt more comfortable about raising concerns.
While the NHS has caught most of the headlines, there are signs that other sectors are aware of the need to grapple with similar issues. The FCA and the PRA have recently published a consultation on a new set of rules for dealing with whistleblowing that will apply a range of organisations in the financial sector including banks, building societies, credit unions and insurers. The National Audit Office has also published a report on the role of prescribed persons – ie the regulatory bodies with whom individuals may raise concerns about wrongdoing and still maintain protection under the whistleblowing legislation. It concludes that more could be done within the existing legal framework to better support whistleblowers and to learn from the concerns they raise.
Linked to these developments, there are two relatively minor changes to the underlying legislation in the pipeline. Firstly, the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, which will shortly complete its passage through Parliament, includes a power to make regulations requiring prescribed persons to produce an annual report on disclosures made to them. In its response to the Francis report, the Government has also promised to extend the scope of the whistleblowing legislation so that it protects applicants for posts in the NHS from victimisation, as well as current and former post-holders. There appear to be no plans to extend this principle more widely, which would put give whistleblowers applying for jobs a similar level of protection to that conferred on victims of discrimination under the Equality Act.