Challenges and Protections for Healthcare Professionals

The landscape of healthcare is dynamic and ever-changing, and professionals can encounter a myriad of challenges that shape their everyday working lives. Understanding safeguarding policies, legislations and regulatory frameworks is essential to be vigilant and able to identify and address potentially unsafe practices, ensuring the highest standard of patient care. 

Healthcare professionals who witness unsafe practices have a duty of care to report what has happened and those who have been involved. This is called whistleblowing. Whistleblowing involves reporting concerns about unsafe practices or risks that threaten patient safety and the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996) protects workers who “blow the whistle”. 

This law is there not only to encourage safety, transparency and accountability within the healthcare system but also to protect professionals who work in the sector. It does this by ensuring employees can raise concerns without fear of retaliation, promoting a culture where patient welfare and professional integrity are prioritised. It is imperative for all healthcare professionals who have witnessed unfair practices and seek to expose wrongdoing to be fully aware of the legal framework and their rights.

Within this post, we explore the complex landscape of healthcare challenges, the issues professionals may face when they witness and report unsafe practices, and what legal frameworks are in place to protect them.


What Does ‘Whistleblowing’ Mean?

Whistleblowing is the act of reporting concerns about illegal, unsafe or unethical practices.  Whistleblowers are often employees who observe a criminal offence, miscarriage of justice, health and safety violations, environmental damage or negligence and decide to bring it to the attention of others, primarily higher management. Whistleblowers play a crucial role in upholding integrity and accountability within organisations as they disclose information that is potentially unsafe, harmful to the public or violates legal and ethical standards. 


Legal Protection for Whistleblowers

All healthcare professionals in the UK have the freedom to draw attention to, expose and make people aware of any unsafe practice that has taken place. Both the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 protect workers who blow the whistle, and whistleblowers have the right not to suffer any detriment. 

A protected disclosure is the official legal name given to the disclosure of information that is protected by whistleblowing legislation. This information must be disclosed to the appropriate person or body and be made in the public interest. The legislation prevents a worker from being dismissed from their position or experiencing detriment from employers and colleagues because of their actions, preventing common concerns associated with whistleblowing. 


What is Meant by Detriment?

Any of the following are classed as detriments; a financial disadvantage, being denied a promotion, physical or mental discomfort like working unsocial hours or changes to employment benefits. It can also include bullying and harassment within the workplace. 

The Employment Rights Act 1996 protects workers in the following three ways;

Protection from dismissal – The ERA 1996 makes it automatically unfair to dismiss a whistleblower for making a protected disclosure. 

Protection from detriment – Whistleblowers are not allowed to be subjected to any “detriment” for making a protected disclosure.

Protection from breach of contract – The act of whistleblowing will not amount to a breach of contract and an individual’s contract, or any other agreement, is void in so far as it attempts to prevent the worker from making a protected disclosure.

Employees, workers, trainees, agency workers and members of a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) are all protected under the ERA 1996 and protection begins on the first day of employment, so it is not necessary to work a minimum of two years to claim protection.


Issues That Can Arise from Whistleblowing in the Healthcare System

Within the healthcare industry, there are some common issues that employees experience when choosing to blow the whistle; 

  • Financial Disadvantages – Whistleblowers can face financial disadvantages such as loss of income due to retaliation from the organisation, legal fees and difficulty finding new employment if their contract is terminated unlawfully. These challenges exacerbate the importance of the legal protection available under the ERA 1996 to safeguard individuals who speak out against wrongdoing in the workplace.


  • Career Development – Whistleblowers may unfortunately experience professional isolation and limitations in their career development due to uncovering a protected disclosure. Despite these challenges, their courage in exposing wrongdoing plays a crucial role in promoting transparency and accountability in workplaces.


  • Changes to Benefits – Reduced bonuses, revoked employee perks and other benefits being removed are just some examples of how whistleblowers may be unlawfully impacted by whistleblowing. 


  • Harassment – Whistleblowers can often face harassment in retaliation for exposing wrongdoing at work. This can manifest as bullying, exclusion from team activities, or even direct threats. Harassment is wholeheartedly unacceptable and reinforces the importance of the legal framework to protect individuals. 


Nationwide Employment Lawyers are Here to Help

Here at Nationwide Employment Lawyers, we have an experienced team of employment law specialists who can talk you through the intricacies of witnessing wrongdoing and what you can do legally to ensure it does not happen again, as well as how you will be protected by the law. Please visit our website which has a plethora of information, or you can call us on 020 8263 6080 and a member of our knowledgeable team will happily help you. Should you need to make a whistleblowing claim, we can support you through the process, ensuring your best interests are protected at all times and you receive the compensation you deserve. 

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