Tag: <span>Research</span>

New paper – modelling “internal whistleblowing” in healthcare

A new study in BMJ Open (follow this link for full version of the paper) has been published by Paul Rauwolf, Bangor University and Aled Jones – who, below, reflects on the paper.


The paper makes a distinctive contribution to the debate about speaking-up (or ‘internal whistleblowing’ as referred to in the paper). It was an interesting challenge to work on a different approach to generating and analysing data. Agent based modelling is a computational modelling approach, which simulates the actions and interactions of both individual or collective entities (such as organizations or groups) and assessing their effects on the system as a whole.

The work focuses on how different speaking-up rates compare with each other in a variety of environments. These models also demonstrate how much institutional nuances can alter the effectiveness of a given speaking-up rate.

Internationally, healthcare staff are being encouraged and supported to raise and respond to concerns in the workplace (see here for an example from a previous post). Given this, the paper aims to answer questions such as:

  • Are resources within the system able to cope with potentially hundreds or thousands of complaints per month?
  • What are the effects, if any, of any delays in responding to concerns on patient care and on employees’ propensity to raise concerns in the future?
  • Will patient care improve as a result of speaking-up?

The paper calls into question the a priori belief that speaking-up always improves patient care. Given resource constraints, whistleblowing /speaking-up policies should seek to understand the complex relationship between accuracy of information, efficiency in responding to concerns, formal and informal speaking-up channels and the utility of speaking up.

The results show that an optimal model for speaking-up include:

  • Organisations where employees’ practices are fully transparent to others and employees within an organisation have a propensity to raise concerns;
  • When introducing roles such as Freedom to Speak Up Guardians, organisational resources and efficient processes are required to ensure concerns are responded to in a timely way. Inefficient processes and response delays suppress speaking-up;
  • It is almost always beneficial to encourage and permit informal channels for speaking up. A combination of informal and formal speaking-up processes perform better than formal speaking-up in isolation. Cheap, timely and informal but less transparent and possibly accurate channels for speaking-up, mixed with more accurate, formal but costly channels leads to excellent patient care.


Important new research report published

Mannion et al (2018) Further details and full report available here

A quick post related to the publication of an important new study led by Professor Russell Mannion (co-applicant on the FTSUG project) focusing on whistleblowing and speaking-up in health care. The report contains a narrative review of the research and formal inquiries, an analysis of legal initiatives and interviews with key stakeholders about the development of whistleblowing policies.  This is an important contribution to the UK literature which also provides broader learning and conclusions of relevance to health systems internationally.

See abstract below and a link to the full report and other resources is included above.


There is compelling evidence to suggest that some (or even many) NHS staff feel unable to speak up, and that even when they do, their organisation may respond inappropriately.


The specific project objectives were (1) to explore the academic and grey literature on whistleblowing and related concepts, identifying the key theoretical frameworks that can inform an understanding of whistleblowing; (2) to synthesise the empirical evidence about the processes that facilitate or impede employees raising concerns; (3) to examine the legal framework(s) underpinning whistleblowing; (4) to distil the lessons for whistleblowing policies from the findings of Inquiries into failings of NHS care; (5) to ascertain the views of stakeholders about the development of whistleblowing policies; and (6) to develop practical guidance for future policy-making in this area.


The study comprised four distinct but interlocking strands: (1) a series of narrative literature reviews, (2) an analysis of the legal issues related to whistleblowing, (3) a review of formal Inquiries related to previous failings of NHS care and (4) interviews with key informants.


Policy prescriptions often conceive the issue of raising concerns as a simple choice between deciding to ‘blow the whistle’ and remaining silent. Yet research suggests that health-care professionals may raise concerns internally within the organisation in more informal ways before utilising whistleblowing processes. Potential areas for development here include the oversight of whistleblowing from an independent agency; early-stage protection for whistleblowers; an examination of the role of incentives in encouraging whistleblowing; and improvements to criminal law to protect whistleblowers. Perhaps surprisingly, there is little discussion of, or recommendations concerning, whistleblowing across the previous NHS Inquiry reports.


Although every effort was made to capture all relevant papers and documents in the various reviews using comprehensive search strategies, some may have been missed as indexing in this area is challenging. We interviewed only a small number of people in the key informant interviews, and our findings may have been different if we had included a larger sample or informants with different roles and responsibilities.


Current policy prescriptions that seek to develop better whistleblowing policies and nurture open reporting cultures are in need of more evidence. Although we set out a wide range of issues, it is beyond our remit to convert these concerns into specific recommendations: that is a process that needs to be led from elsewhere, and in partnership with the service. There is also still much to learn regarding this important area of health policy, and we have highlighted a number of important gaps in knowledge that are in need of more sustained research.


A key area for future research is to explore whistleblowing as an unfolding, situated and interactional process and not just a one-off act by an identifiable whistleblower. In particular, we need more evidence and insights into the tendency for senior managers not to hear, accept or act on concerns about care raised by employees.

Project update March 2021

We completed data collection in January 2020, just as Covid-19 was reaching the UK. The last 12 months have been dedicated …

New paper – modelling “internal whistleblowing” in healthcare

A new study in BMJ Open (follow this link for full version of the paper) has been published by Paul Rauwolf, Bangor University …

10 lessons for speaking-up: learning from Virginia Mason’s PSA system.

Background.  Virginia Mason (VM) Medical Center based in and around Seattle consists of one 350 bed hospital facility and …