Sir Robert Francis QC is to lead a review of how whistleblowers are treated in the NHS, it has been announced today.

The former chair of the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry, who was knighted earlier this month, has been asked by the government to consider what further action is necessary to protect NHS workers who speak out in the public interest.

It follows calls for a public inquiry into whistleblowing in the NHS by a number of high profile whistleblowers and their supporters, including Patients First, a campaign group headed by former Great Ormond Street paediatrician Kim Holt, and GP and Private Eye journalist Phil Hammond.

Announcing the review today, health secretary Jeremy Hunt described whistleblowing as a “critical issue in healthcare systems across the world”.

Sir Robert said “if at all possible” he hoped to report his findings by November, and would be asking for people to submit written evidence and interview them in person where appropriate.

He added: “Since the inquiry I have had a lot of people talk to me about a culture of fear that prevents people speaking up.

“Every time a whistleblower is treated badly or says they have been treated badly, many people are deterred from speaking up.”

Helene Donnelly, the former Stafford Hospital nurse who was bullied after repeatedly raising concerns about the accident and emergency department, will act as an adviser to the review.

She said while questions would be raised about the need for a full public inquiry, the review would “offer some quick answers”.

The review will be called Freedom of Responsibility to Speak Up: An Independent Review into Creating an Open and Honest Reporting Culture.