Freedom to speak up for NHS Scotland staff

Independent role to support whistleblowers.

NHS Scotland staff who are not satisfied with internal investigations will soon be able to enlist the help of an Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO) – a UK first.

Legislation will be introduced to Parliament next year to bring the INWO role under the auspices of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. This would provide statutory powers to help whistleblowers.

The INWO will also examine health boards’ culture and approach to whistleblowing – particularly where a whistleblower claims to have been unfairly treated as a result of raising a concern.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: 

“All NHS staff should have the confidence to speak up without fear, and in the knowledge their concerns will be treated seriously and investigated properly.

“The Independent National Whistleblowing Officer will give staff the ability to access an independent, external body who can review their case and bring it to a clear, final and fair conclusion.

“As Scotland’s independent and impartial watchdog, the Ombudsman is well-placed to provide that safeguard. It will mean cases are dealt with in a way that provides the very highest levels of reassurance for staff.”

Rosemary Agnew, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman said:

“It is important to me that any challenge to the way in which public services are delivered is listened to, properly considered and results in both resolution and appropriate, proportionate improvement. 

“Giving us the role of Independent National Whistleblowing Officer for the NHS in Scotland brings whistleblowing complaints in line with service complaints, providing an independent final consideration of the way in which a matter is investigated and responded to.

“My aim is to ensure standards are consistent, properly applied and result in fair outcomes, while also providing the necessary safeguarding of patients, and those raising the complaints.”


 The Freedom to Speak Up Review, chaired by Sir Robert Francis QC, was published in February 2015. While the report and its recommendations relate to NHS England, the Scottish Government welcomed this review and considered its findings to further support, encourage and promote whistleblowing.

The INWO is part of a package of whistleblowing policies and measures in Scotland including:  

  • an independent confidential alert and advice line
  • policies in line with current legislation and best employment practice
  • policies that mean anyone who victimises staff for genuine whistleblowing will be subject to disciplinary procedures
  • named whistleblowing contacts in every health board
  • Whistleblowing Champions who provide an additional level of local scrutiny and assurance

The SPSO is independent from both the Scottish Government and health boards, with a duty to act impartially.


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