The NHS Constitution will be updated to protect doctors, nurses and other NHS workers who blow the whistle, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has announced.

The changes will also make it clear that it is the duty of all NHS workers to report bad practice or any mistreatment of patients receiving care from the health service.

The announcement follows the poor care exposed by the Care Quality Commission last week after unannounced inspections of 100 NHS hospitals.

Changes to the constitution, to be made in early 2012, will add:

* an expectation that staff should raise concerns at the earliest opportunity;
* a pledge that NHS organisations should support staff when raising concerns by ensuring their concerns are fully investigated and that there is someone independent, outside of their team, to speak to; and
* clarity around the existing legal right for staff to raise concerns about safety, malpractice or other wrong doing without suffering any detriment.

Andrew Lansley said:“The first lines of defence against bad practice are the doctors and nurses doing their best to care for patients. They need to know that they have a responsibility to their patients to raise concerns if they see risks to patient safety. And when they do, they should be reassured that the Government stands full square behind them.

“We are determined to root out the problems in the NHS. That is why I requested a series of unannounced hospital inspections by the Care Quality Commission. Its latest reports showed there are long standing problems and we now want to do all we can to tackle them.”

Responding to the Department of Health’s consultation report ‘The NHS Constitution and Whistleblowing’, Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers organisation, says:

“We all want to ensure we provide the best possible care. The Government’s recommended changes to the NHS Constitution are very welcome and reinforce the responsibilities of staff and employers to report concerns and act on them. They also provide greater clarity to give staff the confidence to report concerns.

“Setting out duties and guidance with clarity is clearly helpful in ensuring that concerns are reported. Protecting patients is of paramount importance and employers have worked hard to improve procedures and policies for reporting any concerns about patient care. This guidance will help embed a culture where this becomes part of the organisations’ DNA.”

“The NHS staff survey shows improvements to the culture of reporting where the vast majority of staff know how to raise concerns.

“To support employers we have recently issued communication tools that can be used by NHS organisations locally to encourage staff to raise concerns. Over the coming months we will be exploring further ways to improve staff engagement and confidence in reporting concerns by using employer engagement forums, communications and developing advice and guidance on our website.”