NHS managers 'must support whistleblowers' under constitution

They must "ensure their concerns are fully investigated and that there is someone independent, outside the team, to speak to", according to the Department of Health.

The changes, being announced today by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, will also "add clarity around the existing legal right for staff to raise concerns about safety, malpractice or whistleblowing in the NHS", said a spokesman.

They follow repeated concerns over staff being given 'gagging orders' to stop them raising concerns outside their trusts - in some cases stopping them from doing so with official regulators like the Care Quality Commission and the General Medical Council.

Mr Lansley said: "Today we have made it easier for staff to raise concerns about poor patient care.

"Whistleblowing will play an important part in creating a culture of patient safety, and this is why it has been added to the NHS Constitution."

The NHS Constitution was introduced in 2009 to "bring together in one place details of what staff, patients and the public can expect from the NHS".

In January the GMC issued new guidance aiming to ban doctors from signing gagging clauses with regulators, saying those who promoted or signed them were "breaking their professional obligations and putting patients, and their careers, at risk".

However, last month the Government was criticised for handing a £160,000 contract for a helpline for NHS staff, for those who wanted to raise concerns, to Mencap.

The charity took the work over from the group Public Concern at Work, on the basis that it had to handle calls not only from NHS staff but also those from social care, without an increase in resources.

Mr Lansley also said on Thursday that he had asked the NHS Future Forum, an independent advisory group, to look at whether the NHS Constitution could be strengthened "to make sure it is working for the benefit of patients and staff". It will be chaired by Professor Steve Field.

The Telegraph