Independent National Whistleblowing Officer for the NHS: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

FOI reference: FOI/17/02901
Date received: 29 November 2017
Date responded: 21 December 2017

Information requested

Following the Scottish Government's announcement about the establishment of an Independent National Whistleblowing Officer in Scotland, you have asked specifically for the following information. For ease, we have provided a response to each question as they arise.

1. You say that this appointment is a 'UK first', yet a National Guardian was appointed in England on 7th July, 2016. How therefore can the Scottish appointment be a 'UK first'?

2. You state that the Mid-Staff's Freedom to Speak Up Review was published by Sir Robert Francis in February, 2015. You say legislation re the INWO will come in next year? Why is it taking 4 years and more to do this?

3. Sir Robert Francis, when ASAP-NHS contacted him to comment on whistleblowing champion appointments in Scotland, would not comment on this. Does Sir Robert now officially support this new initiative and appointment in Scotland and can you please give me a copy of any correspondence from Sir Robert in regard to the new appointment.

4. Why was the appointment of Whistleblowing Champions in Scottish health boards carried out in direct contravention of Sir Robert Francis's recommendations for these roles. Can you please explain why all of Sir Robert's recommendations were ignored and flouted in Scotland?

5. Can you tell me how many whistleblowers have contacted the independent confidential alert line in the past three years (2014, 2015, 2016.) ?

6. How many of these whistleblowers had their complaints resolved to their satisfaction?

7. Can you please send me (electronically to my email address) copies of all your current up to date policies and measures relating to the INWO pertaining to their role in Scotland.

8. A list of all the named whistleblowing contacts and their email contact addresses for all the health boards in Scotland.

9. Is it still the case that NHS board Whistleblowing Champions in Scotland cannot be approached or contacted directly or personally by NHS whistleblowers to report/discuss their concerns?


1. The Independent National Whistleblowing Officer for the NHS in Scotland (INWO) is a 'UK first'. It will be different from the role of the National Guardian as that INWO will have statutory powers to provide a mechanism for independent, external review where individuals have a concern about a Health Board's handling of a whistleblowing case.

2. Following the publication of the Freedom to Speak Up Review in 2015 the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport announced that an Independent National Whistleblowing Officer would be established to provide independent and external review on the handling of whistleblowing cases.

A full public consultation on the proposals ran from November 2015 to February 2016. Following the external analysis and publication of the responses, the Scottish Government published its response. This was in August 2016 and since then we have been working closely with the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) on the detailed proposals in preparation for the legislation to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in 2018.

We have worked and will continue to work closely with key stakeholders to ensure that the INWO role is well considered. This approach has been welcomed and supported as it ensures that when the role is introduced it will be appropriate and effective.

3. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. The Freedom to Speak Up report and its recommendations related entirely to NHS England and we are unable to comment on behalf of Sir Robert Francis. There has not been any correspondence between Scottish Government and Sir Robert Francis regarding the role of the INWO.

4. As you will be aware Sir Robert Francis made a recommendation 'that a person be appointed by the organisation's chief executives to act in a genuinely independent capacity'. It is our view that the appointment of Non-executives to the Whistleblowing Champion role in Scotland is sufficiently independent to fulfil this recommendation. As previously mentioned, the Freedom to Speak Up report and its recommendations related to NHS England. However, the Scottish Government was clear from the outset that it would consider the report's findings to inform our thinking on policy development to further support, encourage and promote whistleblowing. We remain confident that many of the recommended actions, or similar, in the report are already in place or being developed.

5. The information you request regarding Whistleblowing Alert and Advice Services(AALS) is available at the following link: NHS Scotland Confidential Alert Line. Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you.

6. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not hold the information you have requested. We would suggest that you contact Public Concern at Work who provide the AALS service.

7. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because an exemption under section 29(1)(a) (policy formulation) of FOISA applies to that information. This exempts information that relates to the formulation of government policy. Our up- to- date policy position and measures relating to the INWO is on-going development of government policy.

This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in high quality policy and decision-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of policies and decisions. This means that Ministers and officials need to be able to consider all available options and to debate those rigorously, to fully understand their possible implications before they are made public.

You may be interested to learn that we are planning a workshop on our proposals for the INWO for NHSScotland. The workshop is to bring together Whistleblowers and Non-executive Whistleblowing Champions to have their say on how they think the role could best work in practice. Once the details of the workshop are finalised you will be invited to attend.

8. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. The contact details for the designated whistleblowing contacts are held by individual Health Boards. Each Health Board has designated whistleblowing contacts, who staff may contact directly. Also, staff can contact Whistleblowing Alert and Advice Services which provides an additional level of support to staff should they feel unsure about how or whether to whistleblow.

9. The non-executive status of the Whistleblowing Champion role is intended to provide a level of local scrutiny and assurance independent of the direct management or handling of whistleblowing concerns. Whistleblowing Champions should therefore have no involvement in the application of the local whistleblowing policy. To be involved in the process in any way could potentially compromise the independence of the role.

Whistleblowing Champions should not:

  • play a role in the operational management of individual cases under the whistleblowing policy;

  • be a point of contact for staff in relation to whistleblowing concerns (however Whistleblowing Champions should consider how they receive feedback from staff more broadly on the handling of cases);

  • investigate, or be involved in the investigation of any cases.

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