Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Luton ICT Services has launched a feedback tool that it says provides a simple, anonymous solution for NHS staff and patients to report concerns about the way services are run.

iNotify was developed by DCSL Software and is already being used in Bedfordshire, where GPs can submit concerns via an application installed on their PCs.

The idea for the tool came from Mark Peedle, head of operational IT at the ICT service, which is hosted by a CCG.

He told EHI News that iNotify was a “complementary” system to similar services, such as the popular website Patient Opinion, which allows both the public and NHS staff to feedback on poor service, and NHS Choices, which has similar functionality.

What sets iNotify apart, according to Peedle, is the simplicity of the tool and the ability to remain completely anonymous when providing feedback, even in the system’s backend.

Patient Opinion still requires an email address from anyone who submits a story to the site; although this information is kept confidential.

“What I wanted to develop was a tool that was very easy to use,” Peedle told EHI News. “I compared it to Twitter; something that was straight and to the point and provided anonymity. It’s a true whistleblowing application.”

People who submit feedback anonymously can later provide contact details to take their issue further if necessary. “The hope is it can start a dialogue between the service users and any incident can be taken further.”

The system also allows CCGs to keep track of trends in feedback, so plans can be drawn up to tackle them. Peedle gave as an example frequent reports about dirty toilets.

The intention is for iNotify to be available to both healthcare staff and the public and as such it is hosted on servers within DCSL’s data centre rather than on the standard N3 NHS network, meaning it can be used on computer systems outside the NHS.

It can also be accessed in several ways, including as an application that can integrate into the trust intranets or websites, or downloaded onto PCs and mobile devices.

Peedle explained that iNotify is being released as an unbranded application, meaning that organisations who want to use it can personalise it to best fit their needs. The version of the tool currently in place at Bedfordshire CCG is branded as iNform and is currently only available to GPs.

Improving the environment for NHS whistleblowing has risen in prominence with one of the recommendations made following the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry was to improve the transparency of trusts.

Although Patient Opinion does currently provide an option for NHS staff to provide information discretely its founder Paul Hodgkin said last week in an insight piece for EHI News that its service does have limitations if used in this way.

“Since Patient Opinion was not designed for external whistleblowing it is more proof-of-concept than the ideal platform,” he said.

“It might be open to abuse by disgruntled staff (though there is little evidence for this to date) and it fails to provide enough information and offline space to help trusts get to grip with really serious allegations.”

Hodgkin used the article to highlight the work of Project Callisto in the US, which supports victims of college data rape and sexual violence to tell their story, and upload photos and other data to a secure, date-stamped database.

He said the ideas behind the site “could be adapted to create a site where staff can anonymously log concerns about individuals and issues. As these accrued, staff would be informed that others shared their particular concerns.”