When silence isn't golden...

Out of the Ordinary

Christine Brown, Whistle-blowing Helpline

Further reading:

The Whistleblower’s Tale. https://pcnr.co.uk/articles/166/the-whistleblowers-tale

What is whistle-blowing?

Whistle-blowing is the act of reporting a concern about a risk, wrongdoing or illegality at work, in the public interest. Raising concerns about such poor practice should be the norm, accepted as an important part of people’s day-to-day work, as they reflect on their professional practice and work to improve their service.

But we have just heard from Sir Robert Francis QC in his Freedom to Speak Up report into whistle-blowing in the NHS, that staff who speak up often feel isolated and stressed and some of them receive bad treatment from their employer.

If you witness or suspect serious wrongdoing or poor practice at work and are uncertain what to do, you can discuss whether or how to raise your concern with independent, knowledgeable staff here at the Whistle-blowing Helpline. We will help you identify how best to raise your concern (often known as whistle-blowing), while minimising risk to you and maximising the opportunity for any wrongdoing to be addressed.

We aim to promote effective and safe whistle-blowing so that staff feel informed and confident to raise concerns openly with their manager at an early stage. The Whistleblowing Helpline offers free (call charges from mobiles may vary) confidential and independent advice about whistle-blowing processes to people working in the NHS and adult social care.  It is provided by Mencap and commissioned by the Department of Health. 

The Helpline can be reached by telephoning 08000 724725, emailing enquiries@wbhelpline.org.uk or visiting www.wbhelpline.org.uk and is available weekdays between 08.00 and 18.00 with an out of hours answering service on weekends and public holidays.

Last year, we produced our Raising Concerns at Work Guidance which provides information, advice and support for health and social care staff and managers about whistle-blowing. It contains top tips for workers who wish to raise concerns, written in plain English and signposting to sources of advice and support, and there is a flowchart of the whistle-blowing process, in line with the legislation.

There are also sections for managers and employers.  You can download the Raising Concerns at Work Guidance for free at:  http://wbhelpline.org.uk/resources/raising-concerns-at-work/

If you want to raise a concern, follow these steps:

  • find the whistle-blowing policy and procedure where you work and read it.  This is sometimes called a Raising Concerns Policy, and will set out a procedure in line with the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. 
  • think about whether your concern can be discussed in an informal way, or at things like supervision or team meetings.  Consider approaching colleagues or the entire team if you think they may share your concerns.  There is strength in numbers.
  • check your organisation’s policy to find out who you should report your concerns to. You would normally be expected to raise your concern with your line manager first, unless your concern involves or implicates them in which case a more senior manager should be listed within the policy.  If you work for a small organisation where there are no more senior managers, then you might need to go outside of where you work, for example to a regulator.
  • for independent advice, contact the Whistle-blowing Helpline, your trade union representative, your professional body or an HR manager.
  • when you report your concern, focus on as much factual information or evidence as possible.
  • check the process and ask your manager what will happen next. 
  • keep track of what is happening and keep a record in writing of any discussions relating to your concern.
  • consider issues of confidentiality – you can ask for your identity to be kept secret, but this cannot always be guaranteed.  Always ask for further advice if you are thinking of disclosing private or confidential information.
  • if you are not satisfied, use the sources of support and help available to pursue the matter.  If there is nothing more you can do inside your organisation, then you can raise a concern with a regulator such as the Care Quality Commission or with the local Clinical Commissioning Group.  You need to have reason to believe that the information you give and any allegation you make is substantially true – if you only suspect something then that is not enough when you report concerns outside of where you work.


Whistle-blowing is an effective early warning system which gives managers an opportunity to put things right before anything catastrophic happens.

Over time, the Francis recommendations will help cultural change towards open, transparent and learning cultures which value communication and engagement. There will be a common policy on raising concerns and a model of good practice, promoted at training for managers and all staff in the raising and handling of concerns. 

He has also made recommendations to improve things for whistleblowers, with Freedom to Speak Up Guardians to be appointed locally, supported by an Independent National Officer. In the meantime, speaking up is never going to be easy but there are sources of support and advice available, to help you do the right thing.

Raising concerns about  poor practice should be the norm, accepted as an important part of people’s day-to-day work, as they reflect on their professional practice and work to improve their service.