The Times Health News 6 May 2014
Pressure is mounting on the NHS to reopen the cases of six of its most famous whistleblowers after they called for a judge-led public inquiry.
After a string of critical reports by MPs, the whistleblowers have written to a senior official at the Department of Health to ask for fresh investigations and compensation in what would be a series of landmark reviews.
The six are hopeful that Simon Stevens, the new head of the NHS, will radically change how the health service handles serious complaints from its staff in future. Last week he agreed to meet Raj Mattu, a heart doctor who won a 12-year battle to clear his name after going public with concerns about overcrowding on his wards.
Dr Mattu’s victory last month in an employment tribunal, one of the first of its kind, has lent impetus to others campaigning for restitution after losing their jobs in their battles with the NHS.
The six, led by David Drew, a paediatrician whose 37-year career was ruined after he voiced concerns about bullying and staff shortages, have written to Charlie Massey, a senior official in the health department. “We have all suffered employment, reputational and financial loss,” they wrote. “Some of us have had health problems and we have all endured severe stress. We would like our cases investigated and remedied at the earliest opportunity.”
The whistleblowers also called for a judicial public inquiry into the obstacles they had faced. Dr Drew has won the support of Andrew Mitchell, the MP for Sutton Coldfield and former chief whip, who has written to Dr Massey to call for the cases to be re-opened.
Another signatory, Sharmila Chowdhury, lost her job as a radiology manager at the Ealing hospitals NHS trust after complaining that consultants were taking tens of thousands of pounds in personal payments for ultrasound scans. She said that she would have to sell her house as a result of her battle against the trust.
“I have lost my career, my pension, and [am] about to lose my home,” she said. “I also now have cancer, which numerous consultants believe is due to the stress of whistleblowing.”
Ms Chowdhury, a widow struggling to support her son, said that she wanted all whistleblowers to be paid by the NHS until they retired if they had been forced out of their jobs. Last month she met a special adviser to Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, to suggest reforms but has yet to hear back.
The other signatories to the letter include Narinder Kapur, a neuropsychologist who went on a hunger strike after being unfairly dismissed by Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
Dr Massey replied to say that although he could not yet make a decision about their “far-reaching” questions, their call for a fresh round of investigations was being considered “very carefully indeed”.
Dr Drew said that it was “no response at all”. He added: “The government and department of health have no answer to the large number of other whistleblowers who have been defeated by employment law and left to rot. The DoH has no interest in getting justice for frontline staff who have done the right thing [or] to learn the lessons of our cases.”