“Whistleblowers” in health services to be protected in law
The Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, T.D. has introduced important amendments to the Health Act 2004 to provide for protected disclosure of information, “whistleblowing” – in the health services.
The amendment is included in the Health Bill 2006 which was passed by Dáil Eireann last night (Tuesday) and is now due to be considered by Seanad Eireann. Employees making protected disclosures in good faith and on reasonable grounds are protected from penalisation in the workplace and from civil liability.
The Minister said, “I believe we need to make legal provision for protected disclosures so that health service employees are encouraged to raise any concerns about patient safety and welfare. I want to ensure a culture of openness and one where the patient comes first.”
“Health service staff need to know that they will be listened to, that they will not be penalised in the workplace for speaking out on reasonable grounds and in good faith, that they will be protected from civil liability and – crucially – that disclosures will be examined.”
Under the provisions, the Health Service Executive is required to establish procedures (applicable to itself, persons providing services on its behalf and other bodies which have received or are receiving assistance) so that employees can report matters of concern where patients may be put at risk, there is waste of public funds or legal obligations are not being met. The procedures must provide for the appointment of an authorised person to whom employees can make reports. This independent authorised person must investigate the disclosure.
A number of other situations are also explicitly covered including:
•employees of private nursing homes reporting matters to the Chief Inspector of Social Services,
•employees of private psychiatric hospital disclosing information to the Inspector of Mental Health Services,
•persons reporting concerns to a professions’ regulatory body that the actions of a doctor, dentist, nurse or other health and social care professional pose a risk to the health or welfare of a member of the public.
An employee may refer a matter directly to one of a range of other regulatory bodies in certain specified circumstances.
The authorised person can also refer a matter to a professional regulatory body or another regulatory body if he or she thinks it appropriate. A matter can also be referred to the Gardai.
It is envisaged that the provisions will support the existing statutory frameworks governing health professionals and those in Medical Practitioners Bill 2007 and the Pharmacy Bill 2007.
If a person makes a report that is false or misleading he or she may be prosecuted for committing an offence.