BBC - EU gives 'high-level' protection to whistleblowers

An interesting article from the BBC regarding whistleblowers and the EU.

Whistleblowers across the European Union have won greater protection under landmark legislation aimed at encouraging reports of wrongdoing.

The new law, approved by the European Parliament on Tuesday, shields whistleblowers from retaliation. It also creates "safe channels" to allow them to report breaches of EU law. It is the first time whistleblowers have been given EU-wide protection. The rules have previously been in the hands of member states, resulting in a range of vastly different approaches. The law was approved by 591 votes, with 29 votes against and 33 abstentions.

What does the law say?

The new legislation gives whistleblowers who report breaches of EU law a "high level of protection". It establishes "safe channels" for reporting the information, both within an organisation and to public authorities. If no appropriate action is taken or in cases where reporting to the authorities would not work, whistleblowers are permitted to make a public disclosure – including by speaking to the media.

The law protects whistleblowers against dismissal, demotion and other forms of punishment. National authorities are required to train officials in how to deal with whistleblowers under the legislation.

Why was it introduced?

The legislation says whistleblowers play a "key role" in preventing breaches of EU law and protecting society. But, it argues, "potential whistleblowers are often discouraged from reporting their concerns or suspicions for fear of retaliation." 

"We should protect whistleblowers from being punished, sacked, demoted or sued in court for doing the right thing for society," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said.

"This will help tackle fraud, corruption, corporate tax avoidance and damage to people's health and the environment."

Transparency International has said the "pathbreaking legislation" will also give employers "greater legal certainty around their rights and obligations".

On the same theme.

Hyponatraemia whistleblower and health service 'failed'

An investigation into how a whistleblower's hyponatraemia concerns were handled by officials has found the wrong conclusions were reached.

The concerns were on the adequacy of searches in 2004 on Western Health Board premises for documents relating to the hyponatraemia inquiry. The inquiry chairman, who ordered the investigation, said there was a failure at leadership level. 

Hyponatraemia is a disorder that occurs during a sodium shortage in the blood.

The 14-year hyponatraemia inquiry, chaired by Mr John O'Hara QC, examined the treatment of five children who died in Northern Ireland hospitals between 1995 and 2003. It concluded that four of the deaths were avoidable. The whistleblower, who works for the Western Health Trust, raised their concerns in 2018 over the searches of premises belonging to what was then the Western Health and Social Services Board (WHSSB).

'Whistleblower failed'

An internal inquiry into the handling of those concerns was carried out by the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and published last year.

However, a further investigation was ordered by Sir John. He said he had a number of concerns over the initial investigation including a potential perception of conflict of interest as it had been appointed by the Health and Social Care Board chief executive. Concerns were also raised that the interviews with witnesses including the whistleblower were "not all conducted appropriately nor were they all properly investigative".

The inquiry's report made 96 recommendations.

In his report, Sir John, who commended the whistleblower for their actions, said "not only was the whistleblower failed but so too was the service".

It states that the board's investigation failed to state the following:

  • That two of the children who died - Lucy Crawford and Raychel Ferguson - were treated in hospitals within the Western Health and Social Services Board (WHSSB) area.

  • That their deaths were both reported contemporaneously to the WHSSB.

  • That the Hyponatraemia Inquiry was examining allegations of "cover-up" in relation to their deaths.

Sir John added the board's executive summary findings were "wrong" given the evidence before its panel. While the whistleblower's intervention did not impact on the inquiry's final conclusions, the chairman said it did highlight there were gaps in the WHSSB search for documents in 2004.

He said it also highlighted that the HSCB failed to bring relevant information to the attention of the independent inquiry in 2013. However, Sir John said the board's failures to identify problems did not constitute a "deliberate attempt to mislead".

The HSCB said it acknowledged Sir John's report contained a "number of issues in relation to how the whistleblowing investigation was carried out". It added that while the HSCB accepted there was "scope for learning" it also stressed that panel members "carried out a very complex investigation within a constrained timeline with honesty, integrity and dedication".

"The panel members were acutely aware of the seriousness of the whistleblower's concerns, given the tragic circumstances which led to the hyponatraemia inquiry, and strived to consider the issues raised in a fair and impartial manner. "The HSCB is firmly committed to working with the wider healthcare system to ensure that any learning is fully taken on board."

BBC - EU gives 'high-level' protection to whistleblowers.