29/11/2013 08:43 GMT | Updated 28/01/2014 05:59 GMT

Whistleblowing Should Simply Be Seen As the Right Thing To Do

Life isn't simple and things aren't generally black and white. The public sector is part of life and, as such, it's just the same. But even so, wouldn't it be nice if we could just simply focus on doing things for the right reasons?

Acting properly, with the best interests of others in mind, should be the cornerstone of whistleblowing wherever it occurs. It shouldn't involve being fearful of the consequences, shouldn't be bound in endless layers of red tape and shouldn't be subject to mysterious codes of silence and accompanying payoffs.

While whistleblowing can cut across many sectors, in the NHS it can be the difference between life and death. Medical professionals have a duty of care to the people they treat and, if that duty is breached, it can potentially only be through the actions of whistleblowers that problems come to light.

Nevertheless, there remains a stigma attached to whistleblowing and a perception that it can do more harm than good. Recriminations, dismissals and blacklisting are some of the issues which form a nightmare scenario which many people fear and which doubtless discourages some from making their voices heard.

Recently David Prior, chairman of the Care Quality Commission, told MPs that those wishing to expose failures had to be "very, very brave" to speak out and that a "Mafia-style code of silence" prevented many from voicing concerns. Meanwhile, the NHS reportedly spent £4 million in three years to prevent whistleblowers going public, with medical professionals receiving payoffs in return for their "cooperation."

If that wasn't enough, the high profile Mid Staffordshire Hospital scandal saw one of the chief campaigners in highlighting the neglect of patients vilified by certain members of the public for telling it like it was.

It could be argued that the NHS is making slow but steady progress in encouraging whistleblowing. For example, the NHS Employers' website contains several pieces of information and guidance which, on the face of it, would seem to point in the right direction.

Yet there remains a lot to be done. In the last seven days, a commission of experts set up by the charity Public Concern at Work (PCAW) has called for specific measures to be implemented. These effectively represent a whistleblowing code of practice which it hopes will be adopted by the Government and which includes aspects such as the prevention of the gagging or blacklisting of whistleblowers.

Ultimately though, for now at least, David Prior is correct. Those who choose to speak out about wrongdoings do indeed have to be brave. They need more encouragement, most importantly from within the NHS itself, together with helpful and clear guidelines like those proposed by the experts appointed by PCAW.

Only by learning what it is not doing or what it is doing wrong can an organisation begin to improve and whistleblowers have a key part to play in that. In an organisation as big as the NHS, it is inevitable that not all of the people who speak out will be right. But many of them will be and it is these people who can help shape future enhancements in how our healthcare system operates. It is they who can do the right thing and potentially save lives along the way - and if that sounds simple, it's because it should be.

This post was written by Ed Fletcher, the chief executive of Fletchers Solicitors. For more information visit