1 in 7 whistleblowing calls from care sector

The highest proportion of  whistleblowing calls—around one in seven—made to the independent charity Public Concern at Work’s helpline come from the adult social care sector, reveal figures published today.

Concerns were raised by a range of health and social care professionals as well as unpaid carers and volunteers.

The figures, which cover the period 2002 to 2010, show that 7994 of the 13,406 calls made to the helpline were classified as public calls and related to a whistleblowing concern. Of these, 1180 came from the care sector.

A break-down of the figures show that half were concerns about abuse in care or vulnerable people being put at risk. The most common concerns were physical abuse, lack of dignity, neglect, conduct of staff, verbal abuse and medication administered incorrectly or not at all.

Queries often related to how to escalate a concern, advice on personal positions, seeking reassurance, needing support, or dealing with victimisation for raising a concern.

In half of all cases where other staff knew about a risk they were either too scared or felt unable to speak up.

Over 80% of the whistleblowers had already raised their concern before calling for advice. And in a third of these cases whistleblowers’ concerns were either initially ignored, mishandled, or denied by management.

Worryingly, few care workers knew of, or used, their whistleblowing policy, and care workers frequently don’t realise they are actually “blowing the whistle” until they encounter difficulties when having their concern addressed or are mistreated personally.

Often whistleblowers struggle with the lack of feedback from organisations regarding how their concern is being handled, leading workers to raise their concerns externally, or not knowing where to go, when it could have been dealt with internally.

Cathy James, Acting Director of Public Concern at Work said: “Our research demonstrates there are systemic deficiencies that prevent care workers from speaking up effectively to protect vulnerable adults.

This must be addressed. We have to ensure that every worker who is in a position to speak up is encouraged [to do so] and supported [when they do]. Whistleblowers should not be lone voices in the workplace. This is all the more important when safeguarding those who cannot speak up for themselves.”

She said the sector needed to be more proactive in promoting good whistleblowing practice and supporting those who blew the whistle.

This included training and guidance for managers on how to handle concerns; providing feedback when responding to concerns; a greater awareness of rights; zero tolerance of whistleblower victimisation; and clearer guidance about how and when to approach relevant authorities.

“Many of these steps are straightforward and cost effective. Employers can do so much more to protect vulnerable adults by making it safe for care workers to question wrongdoing and malpractice,” she added.