• NHS Improvement appeals for trusts to help design pilot scheme
  • Project follows recommendation by Sir Robert Francis QC
  • Freedom to Speak Up Report highlighted how whistleblowers lost careers

A new initiative to help whistleblowers return to work in the NHS is being developed and piloted by NHS Improvement.

The regulator has appealed for NHS trusts to get involved in designing the employment support scheme after holding a workshop with whistleblowers earlier this year.

Helping genuine whistleblowers to return to work was a key recommendation of Sir Robert Francis QC’s report Freedom to Speak Up which examined the victimisation of whistleblowers in the NHS.

Now NHS Improvement has said it will implement a return to work scheme and is designing a pilot, but has called for NHS trusts to help design the scheme along with members of the whistleblower community.

In his report, published in 2015, Sir Robert said evidence showed some whistleblowers spent long periods suspended from work and in many cases never returned to work having lost their careers. He said there was an “urgent need” for a scheme to support people to return to the NHS.

He said this should apply to individuals who “can demonstrate that this is related to having made protected disclosures and that there are no outstanding issues of justifiable and significant concern relating to their performance.”

The former chairman of the Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry said the project should be supported by all the NHS to “send a clear signal to their staff, and to staff across the NHS that they are willing to value people who are brave enough to raise concerns.”

As a minimum Sir Robert said the scheme must include remedial training and work experience, advice and help in making job applications, the creation of a pool of employers prepared to offer trial work and guidance for employers to encourage them to consider raising concerns as a positive characteristic for potential employees.

No details have yet been released about the timetable for development of the pilot or which organisations are involved.

A spokeswoman for NHS Improvement said: “We are committed to ensuring that NHS staff who raise legitimate concerns are able to do so safely and with the knowledge that they will be supported to return to the NHS and their chosen career.

“This pilot programme will look at how best to support highly skilled staff back into the NHS after making a protected disclosure.”

NHS trusts interested in taking part in the pilots should email nhsi.vsmcases@nhs.net