This fact sheet gives an introduction to whistleblowing and details of organisations that can help.
What is whistleblowing
Whistleblowing is defined on the GOV.UK website as reporting suspected wrongdoing at work and this is called making a disclosure in the public interest. This is different to a situation where someone has a personal grievance. A grievance is a matter of personal interest and does not impact on the wider public whereas a whistleblowing procedure must relate to matters that qualify for protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act as discussed below.
Whistleblowing is not always easy to do but there are organisations who offer advice and support. A whistleblower or someone considering whistleblowing can contact their trade union, or an organisation such as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) or Protect. See below for contact details.
Legal protection for whistleblowers
The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) can provide protection to workers making disclosures that are in the public interest and also allows for compensation claims to be made for victimisation following such disclosures. Employees are only protected under the legislation if they make the disclosure to the appropriate person/prescribed body, see Considering blowing the whistle below.
Someone making a disclosure must reasonably believe that any information disclosed or allegation made is substantially true and that the disclosure is being made in the public interest. If the information is proved to be untrue, this in itself will not rule out being protected by the Act
Which disclosures are protected
For a disclosure to be protected it must relate to matters that qualify under the PIDA, for example:-
- a criminal offence
- danger to someone’s health and safety
- breach of a legal obligation
- a miscarriage of justice
- damage to the environment
- deliberate concealment of information that could prove that any of the above had occurred.
Who is protected
Not all workers are protected under disclosure legislation, for example, someone who has signed the Official Secrets Act may then be breaking the law if they do report something. For a full list of who is and is not protected, see GOV.UK, the government website.
Whistleblowing in the pharmacy
The Clinical governance requirements for community pharmacy produced by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) give information about provisions for the protection of someone working in a pharmacy who raises a concern and the requirement to provide a safe environment for staff to raise concerns without fear of reprisal. For further information, see the guidance on the PSNC website.
Considering blowing the whistle
Whistleblowers can report an incident to their employer, or a prescribed person or body. It is recommended good practice for employers to have a whistleblowing procedure in place. Check your contract or contact your HR department for your company policy.
For a full list of prescribed people and bodies, see the government website. Many of the prescribed bodies also have separate offices for Scotland and Wales.
Protect and ACAS can both provide further advice about who to approach.
Protect highlight some issues that may arise when a concern is raised anonymously, for example:-
- being anonymous does not always stop others from guessing who raised the concern
- it is harder to get protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act
- it is harder to investigate a concern if people cannot ask follow-up questions
- if someone reports a concern anonymously and subsequently suffers ill treatment at the hands of work colleagues, or are dismissed, they may find it difficult to argue that this was a consequence of whistleblowing.
Protect can be contacted for further help and information on the differences surrounding raising a concern anonymously or confidentially.
Bullying and harassment after whistle blowing
Whilst other employees are also subject to the law and action may be taken against them for bullying someone after a whistle blowing event, this will not always prevent it from happening.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has information about bullying in the workplace and steps that can be taken to resolve it. For further details, see the HSE website.
For further information, including including a list of other useful contacts, see our Bullying fact sheet.
Dismissals for whistleblowing
Someone who is dismissed for whistleblowing can bring a claim for unfair dismissal as long as they have met the protected disclosures criteria. If someone is dismissed unfairly they should seek specialist advice from their union or an organisation such as PCaW or ACAS.
Useful organisations – general
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
ACAS is an organisation that offers advice on preventing and resolving employment disputes. They can advise on potential employment issues arising from making a disclosure. Contact the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100, or for further information, visit the ACAS website.
Protect is a whistleblowing charity and they have trained advisers who can offer free and confidential practical and legal advice. The advice given by each adviser is overseen by qualified lawyers who are always on hand to assist in urgent or complex matters. Contact the Protect Advice Line on 020 7404 6609, or for further information, see the Protect website.
National Whistleblowing Helpline
The National Whistleblowing Helpline offers free, confidential advice to anybody working within the NHS. The Helpline is not a disclosure line but it provides free advice and guidance to someone considering blowing the whistle. Call them on 08000 724 725, or complete an on-line form on the National Whistleblowing Helpline website.
There is government information about how to report suspected wrongdoing at work. For further details, visit the GOV.UK website.
Useful organisations – pharmacy
Pharmacist Support can refer you for free and confidential employment advice provided by specialist Citizens Advice advisers. If you would like to be referred you can contact us on our general enquiry line: 0808 168 2233, or email us on: firstname.lastname@example.org
General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)
The GPhC have guidance on raising concerns, for further information, see the GPhC website, or contact the GPhC general enquiry line on 020 3365 3400.
Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP)
The GHP defends the interests of individual pharmacists working in hospitals, primary care and other healthcare institutions in the NHS and the commercial sector. For further information about their services, contact the GHP on 020 3371 2009, or visit the GHP website.
National Pharmacy Association (NPA)
The NPA is the trade association for community pharmacy across the UK. They have resources for employers and employees who are NPA members about whistleblowing. For further details, contact the NPA enquiry line on 01727 858 687, or visit the NPA website.
Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA)
The PDA is a trade union for pharmacists. PDA union members are able to obtain advice concerning employment legislation from the PDA union office. Pre-registration trainees and students can also become members of the PDA (for which there is no charge). For further information call the PDA helpline on 0121 694 7007, or visit the PDA website.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)
The RPS have produced information in association with PCaW about raising concerns, whistleblowing and speaking up safely in pharmacy. This information is available to RPS members in the Services section of their website. For further details contact the RPS on 0845 257 2570. There is also a dedicated whistleblowing helpline that RPS members can call and this can be found on the whistleblowing factsheet on the members’ section of the RPS website.
This fact sheet was last reviewed on 6 February 2020.