Whistleblowing – protecting service users from poor practice

What is whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing has its purpose in all places of work, but nowhere could it be more relevant than when supporting vulnerable adults who may not be able to communicate or raise concerns for themselves. According to the Care Quality Commission, whistleblowing is the term used when someone who works for an employer raises a concern about malpractice, risk (for example about patient safety), wrongdoing or possible illegality, which harms, or creates a risk of harm, to people who use the service, colleagues or the wider public.

Over the years, there have been notable cases in care; the Winterbourne Scandal being one of the most prominent. In this case, residents within a learning disability care home were physically and psychologically abused by staff. Despite people raising concerns, these were not dealt with by the senior staff or the wider organisation, i.e., the owners. It took for the BBC’s Panorama programme to go undercover and covertly film the evidence for five weeks to  expose this care home to the nation.  Six staff received prison terms for their actions.

Creating a safe environment for staff to whistleblow

Ideally, as soon as poor practice is witnessed, it should be reported internally. Working in an open and transparent environment will help foster trust and enable staff to feel they can come forward and raise any concerns. If the whistleblower believes they may lose their job, then they may be discouraged from doing so.

In good organisations, action will be taken immediately to correct the issues with appropriate action taken. However, there may be times when this isn’t possible, or if the poor practice continues after reporting. In this instance, it may be necessary for the whistleblower to make a formal disclosure, outside of the organisation. The Care Quality Commission takes whistleblowing very seriously and staff can report directly to them in the event of non-action in their care organisation.

How can we foster trust in our staff to confidently whistleblow?

For whistleblowing to be effective, staff must be confident of the following:-

  • Knowing when to blow the whistle and understand why they should whistleblow
  • Feel confident that the organisation will support them when blowing the whistle
  • Be sure that the organisation will act on the information the whistleblower provides
  • Know the organisation will put things right

Examples of when you should whistleblow

All staff working in care are required to undertake safeguarding training to identify the vast range of abuse that can take place. Here are some examples:-

  • Staff shouting at the service user
  • Staff being unduly rough/pushing the service user
  • Hitting, slapping, kicking, torture
  • Treating people with a lack of dignity and respect
  • Stealing money or material goods
  • Withholding treats, money, medication so the staff member can get their way
  • Overdosing or under-dosing medication 
  • Lying to the service user, or withholding vital information
  • Giving false hope to a service user who is dying
  • coercing the service user into doing something they do not like
  • Ignoring the person’s mental capacity and asking them to sign a document they do not understand
  • Breaching confidentiality when the information was not relevant or needed to be shared

What are 'protected disclosures'?

A protected disclosure is a qualifying disclosure that is made by a worker when  they reasonably believe there is serious wrongdoing/malpractice  within the workplace. This may relate to witnessing a  dangerous or illegal act. In this instance, the employee will be protected by law from any form of unfair treatment at work, including dismissal because they have reported past, present or even potential wrongdoing.

Examples of what might qualify as a protected disclosure are as follows:-


  • A criminal offence
  • Non-compliance with the law
  • Miscarriages of justice
  • Health and safety breaches
  • Environmental damage
  • Concealing any of the above

How does Aster Care support whistleblowing?

At Aster Care, we work to protect our service users in several different ways by ensuring staff are trained and confident in recognising abuse/malpractice, and reporting it. We have created an ‘open door’ policy where staff can speak to us, and our staff feedback shows staff consistently feel that they are listened to and action is taken when they raise concerns. In addition, we undertake the following:-


  • All staff have to undertake safeguarding training PRIOR to commencing work. They are issued with a copy of the company’s safeguarding procedures which remain accessible to them via our BrightHR human resources app.
  • To bolster this, the company’s Operations Director, Pam Butler, has developed an additional safeguarding refresher course to plug the gaps in the training where learning from experience has shown that training and existing procedures can be strengthened.  This further drills down on the wider scope of abuse that some staff may not recognise as abuse, and also focuses on how staff can best protect themselves against allegations of abuse.
  • In addition the above, whistleblowing is discussed at induction, and a comprehensive whistleblowing policy is available to staff. Safeguarding and health and safety concerns are also a standing item on the staff’s supervision agenda. 


If you require a copy of our whistleblowing policy or wish to find out more, please contact us via our website link.

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