NHS whistleblowers given direct line to Health Secretary

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Scotland’s health secretary has told NHS whistleblowing champions to come straight to her if they are not being listened to by their health boards.

Jeane Freeman said she would appoint the posts for each NHS board, amid concerns over bullying at some boards and a whistleblower resignation.

Speaking at the SNP conference in Glasgow, she urged NHS staff who feel bullied or harassed to come forward.

She said: “Scotland’s NHS can only flourish when everyone who works in it feels confident they can raise their voice. That they will be free to speak and they will be heard.

“If there are shortcomings our front-line staff are the first to see or hear them.

“So let me be clear. If there is anyone in our health service who is feeling bullied or harassed I take that very seriously and I want you to come forward.

“But speaking up about bullying or intimidation can be hard to do. You worry that you might be ignored or your concerns dismissed. You worry there might be repercussions on you.”

She said steps have been put in place to support staff but pledged to go further and said she would set out her plans in the coming weeks.

She added: “But one step I will take is that I will personally appoint each board’s whistleblowing champion.

“So if any one of these dedicated professionals feels they are not being heard in their boards, you come straight to me.”

Her announcement follows allegations of “systematic bullying” at NHS Tayside and the stress-related suicide of a trainee doctor there being raised at parliament earlier this month.

MSPs heard these issues prompted the resignation of the health board’s whistleblowing champion.

Four senior medics at NHS Highland have alleged a “long-standing bullying culture” at the board is damaging patient care – claims the board’s medical director Dr Rod Harvey said he “did not recognise”.

The Health Secretary used her speech to announce she would set out a new plan to improve NHS waiting time targets over the next few years, in the coming weeks, and vowed they would not be scrapped.

She added: “This won’t be easy. But bluntly, there are too many people waiting too long for treatment.

“But with carefully directed investment and reform, I believe we can continue to shape our NHS to deliver for the future and achieve better outcomes for patients.”

She also pledged to recruit up to 100 recently retired NHS staff to return to mentor newly qualified workers.

She said the pilot scheme of experienced practice advisers in midwifery, health visiting, district nursing and advanced practice would being next year.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said the whistleblower announcement raises questions on “patronage and transparency”.

She added: “This SNP government has a history of silencing NHS staff, by cancelling the annual staff survey for example, and these roles are too important to be at the grace and favour of the health secretary.”

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