By James Sage, Partner at Royds Withy King (www.roydswithyking.com)
A recent study by the Daily Express indicated that there has been a significant increase (66%) in complaints made by care staff to CQC dur- ing the Covid-19 pandemic, with the majority of concerns raised relating to infection control, social distancing and a lack of PPE.
It comes as no surprise that this unprecedented situation has created an increased risk of whistleblowing disclosures due to health and safety risks. However, it is a concern that staff are bypassing employers and making reports directly to CQC. This highlights the importance of having robust and well managed whistleblowing procedures so that staff have the confidence that their concerns will be addressed effectively internal- ly without the need for them to report directly to CQC.
Here are some practical tips for dealing with whistleblowing disclo- sures:
- Ensure managers are alert to the increased risk of whistleblowing disclosures during Covid-19 and have suffi- cient training to spot them. The most common disclosures are likely to be concerns about a breach of health and safety requirements or a breach of some other legal obligation (e.g. CQC regulations or data protection).
- Have a clear policy on how concerns should be raised. Staff don’t have to raise disclosures in a particular way to have protection, but having a detailed policy, describing the format (e.g. in writing) and to whom they should be submitted, will help ensure that they aren’t inadvertently missed.
• Reassure staff that they are positively encouraged to raise concerns so that you can investigate and address any failings and learn from any mistakes that have been made. Building trust in your approach will help ensure that staff raise concerns internally in the first instance, rather than with CQC.
• Reassure staff that the disclosure will not adversely affect their position at work and you will protect them if they are concerned about repercussions from any colleagues they have complained about.
• Having a facility for anonymous reporting is also likely to encourage concerns being raised internally in the first instance.
• Remember that a worker only has to have a reasonable belief in the alleged wrongdoing and can still be protected even if they are mistaken about the wrongdoing. You should therefore always take complaints seriously and deal with them in a consistent manner even if it seems like they are unfounded.
• Discuss with the worker what additional support they might need during what can be a difficult or anxious time with access to mentoring, advice and counselling.
• Keep the worker informed of the progress of the investigation and where possible (and not prohibited by duties of confidentiality and date protection to others) inform the worker of the outcome and any remedial steps that have been taken.
• Record the number and nature of whistleblowing disclosures and regularly audit them to spot any patterns.