20/03/2017 00:01 GMT | Updated 20/03/2017 15:47 GMT

NHS Whistleblowers To Get More Protection Under New Plans

Protections for NHS whistleblowers are to be extended under new Government plans.

The draft regulations set out by the Department of Health include proposals to give applicants who have previously blown the whistle and are seeking re-employment in the health service a right to complain to a tribunal if they have been discriminated against.

They aim to establish a timeframe in which a complaint to the employment tribunal must be lodged, detail the remedies which the tribunal may award, and make provisions for the amount of compensation that can be awarded.

The draft regulations also set out to treat discrimination of an applicant by a worker or agent of an NHS body as though it was the NHS body itself discriminating.

They state that applicants will be given the right to bring a claim in the County Court or High Court for breach of statutory duty to "restrain or prevent discriminatory conduct", the Department of Health said.

The changes were recommended by barrister Sir Robert Francis, whose independent report in 2013 found there had been basic failings in standards of care at Stafford Hospital, with hundreds more patients dying than would have been expected between 2005 and 2008.

In a 2015 report titled Freedom to Speak Up Review, Sir Robert found nearly a third of the 19,000 NHS staff questioned who had raised a concern felt unsafe afterwards, and more than 1,000 said they had felt victimised.

The damning review found that some NHS staff had been driven to the brink of suicide after voicing their concerns, with Sir Robert noting there were more references to bullying in the written contributions he received than to any other problem.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is due to give a speech at the Learning from Deaths conference on Tuesday.

He said: "Today we move another step closer to creating a culture of openness in the NHS, where people who have the courage to speak up about patient safety concerns are listened to, not vilified.

"These welcome changes will prohibit whistleblowers being discriminated against when they seek re-employment in the NHS, ultimately ensuring staff feel they are protected with the law on their side."

A consultation on the draft regulations will run for eight weeks.

Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "We welcome all measures to support staff in raising concerns but the best way to provide safe patient care is to have enough staff in the first place.

"NHS staff must be supported in blowing the whistle but the Health Secretary must also listen to their warnings. Health professionals across the board are blowing the whistle to tell Jeremy Hunt that services are becoming less safe, not more, on his watch."