Raising concerns whistleblowing and speaking up safely in pharmacy

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Why have we produced this?

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Public Concern at Work (PCaW) are committed to working with all stakeholders to improve the existing culture for raising concerns and working towards creating a “safe” and constructive whistleblowing environment for employees and temporary staff.

What is this resource?

This resource provides some concise information about whistleblowing and signposts to further sources of information for more detail.

What this document does not cover

This document is not a comprehensive legal resource for whistleblowing or the legal protection provided by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA).

What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing, raising concerns and speaking up are all phrases which describe being able to disclose information safely to an employer or where appropriate a regulator, police or the media about malpractice, wrongdoing or safety.

Why does whistleblowing matter?

At one time or another, pharmacists may come across a concern that affects their patients, colleagues, employers or the wider public. We need to ensure that all pharmacists are able to raise concerns about such issues early and effectively, as it’s in everyone’s interests that suspected malpractice or wrongdoing is dealt with properly and before it’s too late.

What do I do if I witness wrongdoing?

Raising a concern using an existing whistleblowing policy or procedure would generally be the recommended first step.

Workers within the NHS already benefit from well-established whistleblowing policies and procedures which have been guided by the resource ‘Speak up for a healthy NHS’ developed by PCaW and the Social Partnership Forum.

Workers in other sectors should check whether their employer has a whistleblowing policy or procedure.

Procedures should adhere to core principles which are available in our resource 8 core principles for community pharmacy whistleblowing policies and procedures September 2011.

Where can I seek advice on whether or how to raise a concern?

Workers including temporary staff, contractors and locums should feel able to seek advice internally or externally from a range of bodies prior to making a decision on whether or not to raise a concern.

PCaW are an independent, experienced charity specialising in whistleblowing and can provide confidential advice on whether or how to raise a concern. PCaW can be contacted 0800 668 1883.

Other organisations who can provide advice depending upon the circumstances include:

• Union (e.g. Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union, Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists)
• Employers, line management and superintendent’s office
• The Royal Pharmaceutical Society
• Pharmacist Support (formerly the benevolent fund)
• General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)
• Other relevant regulatory bodies (e.g. MHRA, Home Office, Health and Safety Executive, DEFRA, Care Quality Commission etc)
• Relevant Primary Care Organisation (PCT/Health Board)
• Indemnity Provider (e.g. Guild of Healthcare Pharmacist, Pharmacists’ Defence Association, National Pharmacy Association or other).

What is the difference between anonymity and confidentiality?

A worker raises a concern confidentially if he or she gives his or her name only on condition that it is not revealed without their consent. A worker raises a concern anonymously if he or she does not give his or her name. Usually, the best way to raise a concern is to do so openly.

What is the difference between making a complaint (grievance) and blowing the whistle?

Typically a complaint or grievance is personal to the complainant and involves being poorly treated, breach of employment rights or bullying. These should be handled under an employer’s complaint or grievance procedure and the complainant is expected to prove their case.

Whistleblowing issues have a component of others being affected, (e.g. customers, members of the public, or their employer) and the person blowing the whistle may not be directly, personally affected by the malpractice or wrongdoing.

Should I blow the whistle anonymously?

There are additional risks when workers raise their concerns anonymously. These are:

• being anonymous does not stop others from successfully guessing who raised the concern;
• it is harder to investigate the concern if people cannot ask follow-up questions;
• it is easier to get protection under the UK Public Interest Disclosure Act if the concerns are raised openly; and
• it can lead people to focus on the whistleblower, maybe suspecting that he or she is raising the concern maliciously.

If you are unsure about whether or not you should raise your concern anonymously, we recommend seeking advice from one of the sources above.

Do whistleblowers have legal protection?

Almost all workers (save the armed forces, intelligence officers, volunteers and the self-employed) in the United Kingdom are protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA). PIDA provides workers in the UK with a safe alternative to silence. It enables workers to raise concerns about wrongdoing responsibly. PIDA protects them if they raise a concern about wrongdoing internally and, in most cases, with a regulator. It also protects workers who make wider disclosures where there is a valid reason to go wider, and the particular disclosure is reasonable.

The purpose of PIDA’s protection is for a concern to be raised so that it can be addressed, and any wrongdoing corrected. If the sole or main reason a worker blows the whistle is to pursue a personal vendetta (or has some other ulterior motive) then this protection may well be lost.

Download more information on PIDA, including a copy of the Act.

Although PIDA does not protect the self-employed, whistleblowing policies can provide assurances beyond the legislation and can explicitly cover the self-employed. This is a principle supported by the Whistleblowing Arrangements Code of Practice issued by the British Standards Institute.

Does the Public Interest Disclosure Act say that a worker must raise a concern about possible wrongdoing with their employer in the first instance?

PIDA does not require a worker to raise a concern about wrongdoing with their employer before they speak to anyone else. Rather, PIDA encourages workers to approach their employer first by:

• making this the easiest way to obtain legal protection; and
• making it more likely that a subsequent disclosure of the same information to an outside body will be protected.

However, it is not mandatory to go to your employer first. As there can be legitimate reasons why a worker in a particular organisation would need or want to raise their concern first outside their workplace (either before or after going to their employer), PIDA protects such disclosures providing the worker acts in the responsible ways set out in the Act.

This approach of PIDA promotes accountability and good internal governance by:

• encouraging employers to solicit and be open to whistleblowing concerns;
• reassuring employees there is a safe alternative to silence; and
• helping employers to address any wrongdoing properly, in the knowledge that if they do not the concern can readily be raised outside in an appropriate way.

If you’re not sure whether or not you will be protected for raising a concern we recommend that you seek advice from one of the sources above.

Where to go for further information

  1. Public Concern at Work or 0800 668 1883
  2. British Standards Institute. Whistleblowing Arrangements Code of Practice; 2008 (PAS 1998:2008)
  3. Social Partnership Forum. Speak up for a healthy NHS, How to implement and review whistleblowing arrangements in your organisation
  4. GPhC: Standards of conduct, ethics and performance; 2010
  5. Royal Pharmaceutical Society (July 2011) Reducing workplace pressure through professional empowerment
  6. Royal Pharmaceutical Society (September 2011) 8 Core principles for community pharmacy whistleblowing policies and procedures