Ministers have been accused by MPs of failing to put in place effective policies to protect whistleblowers in the public services, despite their role in exposing a series of major scandals.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee said the treatment of whistleblowers was often “shocking” – with bullying and harassment from colleagues – but government departments were unable to say whether any action had been taken against their persecutors.
The committee highlighted the important role played by whistleblowers in uncovering the scandals at the Mid Staffs NHS hospital trust and policing of the Hillsborough football stadium tragedy.
However it found that there was a “startling disconnect” between Whitehall’s generally good whistleblowing policies in theory and the way they operated in practice.
It said that officials who did try to raise concerns often had to show “remarkable courage” in coming forward, and warned that the failure to provide effective protection could deter others from doing the same.
The committee highlighted the treatment of Kay Sheldon, a member of the board of the Care Quality Commission, who was “victimised” by senior officials after she tried to raise concerns about the way it was operating.
In evidence to the committee, Ms Sheldon described how attempts were made to discredit her – including the drawing up of a secret report on her mental health.
But while her concerns were subsequently vindicated, the committee said that it appeared no one had faced any form of sanction over her treatment.
The committee chair, Margaret Hodge said: “A positive approach to whistleblowing should exist wherever the taxpayer’s pound is spent, by private and voluntary sector providers as well as public bodies.
“However, far too often whistleblowers have been shockingly treated, and departments have sometimes failed to protect some whistleblowers from being victimised.
“This lack of action has a profound impact on confidence and trust in the system, and means that employees are less likely to blow the whistle for fear of what may happen to them.”