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Protection for Whistle Blowers

The protection afforded to whistle blowers in the medical profession has been very much in the spotlight recently, after a junior doctor was given permission by the Court of Appeal to proceed with a whistleblowing claim against Health Education England (HEE).

Public Interest Disclosures

Workers who make a disclosure in the public interest, or ‘blow the whistle’ are protected in certain circumstances under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. The Act provides this protection so that workers feel able to speak out if they are aware of malpractice taking place within an organisation.

To qualify for protection under the legislation, a disclosure must relate to one of the following:

  • a criminal offence
  • someone’s health and safety is in danger
  • risk or actual damage to the environment
  • a miscarriage of justice
  • the company is breaking the law
  • a belief that someone is covering up wrongdoing

Concern over Staffing Levels

The case in question involved Dr Chris Day, who became concerned about staffing levels while working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in London and the possible impact on patient safety, the Independent reports.  However, when he raised these concerns with managers at the hospital he claims he became a target for Health Education England, which proceeded to make allegations against him that effectively ruined his career. HEE denied these claims.

He went to an employment tribunal, but was told that whistleblowing legislation did not apply to HEE because the organisation wasn’t actually Dr Day’s employer.

Dr Day then went to the Court of Appeal to challenge this decision, and judges have now ruled that doctors should be entitled to greater protection for making public interest disclosures and that a ‘new interpretation of employment law’ will be required.

The case will now go back to the employment tribunal to be reconsidered on the grounds of this ruling.

Court of Appeal Decision Welcomed

Whistleblowing charity, Public Concern at Work, has welcomed the Court of Appeal decision. It had intervened in the case because of concerns about the implications the tribunal rulings might have on whistleblowing protections.

"I would like to congratulate Chris Day on what is an amazing achievement both personally and for his fellow professionals, but also a major positive shift in the protection afforded to whistleblowers across all industries,” said Cathy James, Chief Executive of Public Concern at Work. “We have always said that effective protection for whistleblowers will result in more concerns about wrongdoing, risk or malpractice being effectively raised and ultimately a safer, better and fairer society. Dr Day’s victory today is a victory for all of us.”

“The judgment makes crystal clear that action against a whistleblower can sometimes take place by those outside the primary employment relationship and that outside bodies can have a huge influence over the terms of any worker's employment,” she added. “This goes beyond the specific terms of the employment contract. Taking this new principled approach to the law, the Employment Tribunal can now go on to consider the exact nature of Dr Day’s relationship with HEE and the circumstances that followed his raising of patient safety concerns in Queen Elizabeth Hospital.”

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