Date of release: Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dr Wim VandekerckhoveA new national report into the practice of 'whistleblowing' – exposing wrongdoing in the workplace – contains key research by University of Greenwich expert Dr Wim Vandekerckhove.

The Freedom to Speak Up Review, announced by the Secretary of State for Health earlier this year and launched on Wednesday 11 February, focuses on the NHS and is aimed at creating an open and honest culture of enabling staff to report serious malpractice.

Dr Vandekerckhove, a member of the university's Business School and an international expert on whistleblowing, carried out more than three dozen interviews with frontline staff, medical directors, HR managers, case handlers, support groups and regulators, alongside Dr Nataliya Rumyantseva, also from the University of Greenwich. Their research forms a significant part of the report, which has been led by Sir Robert Francis QC.

He says: "Whistleblowing policies in NHS Trusts showed a huge variation, and on important aspects did not always meet standards of good practice. Most policies contained confused wording with regard to confidentiality, anonymity, good faith and reasonable belief, making it harder for individuals to feel confident in coming forward with their issues."

The researchers' analysis revealed there are two ways in which whistleblowing policies are implemented. The first entails a 'gatekeeper approach' adopted by the Trusts, which is used for investigating cases of major wrongdoing. This approach tends to use strict and narrow legal definitions as to what whistleblowing actually is and often fails to respond adequately to those who raise concerns, the experts found.

The second approach takes a broader and more engaging approach to whistleblowing. It accepts a wider range of concerns for procedures to be invoked, and also regards various grievance-like situations as indicators of potential malpractice. The research found that some NHS trusts have this approach, with Dr Vandekerckhove wanting to see this more widely implemented across other trusts.

He adds: "While many trusts have started to encourage staff to raise a concern, few of them have taken that crucial second step of developing channels to visibly respond to concerns."

A member of the university's Work & Employment Research Unit (WERU), Dr Vandekerckhove is also co-editor of the recently published International Handbook on Whistleblowing Research, which brings together various experts who analyse three decades of activity in this area.

A member of the Advisory Board of the Advice Centre for Whistleblowing in the Netherlands, he has previously advised Transparency International and the Council of Europe. He frequently speaks on this topic at academic and corporate events in the UK and overseas.
There has been widespread national and regional media coverage for Dr Vandekerckhove's previous work on whistleblowing, which has featured on BBC Radio Five Live and BBC World News as well as in The Guardian and the Huffington Post.
Dr Vandekerckhove's research can be viewed at:

Twitter: @VdkWim


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Picture: Dr Wim Vandekerckhove.