The head of the NHS has urged hospitals to take whistleblowers’ complaints more seriously, as influential voices joined the chorus calling for action.
Simon Stevens said that the past “could not be undone” after six whistleblowers asked for their cases to be re-opened, but he called on the NHS and its watchdogs to change “urgently”.
He appeared to echo the complaint that NHS managers often pushed whistleblowers into employment disputes rather than listening to their concerns.
Mr Stevens said: “While, of course, the past cannot be undone, nor should it be ignored. It is critical we learn from these cases so as to ensure in the future, where people have legitimate concerns about care, these are fully aired, carefully investigated and quickly acted upon.
“That is why in future the NHS needs to be clearer about separating employment disputes from staff concerns about quality of care. NHS employers and regulators now urgently need to think about how best to do this.
” A source close to the NHS leadership said that moving to reassure whistleblowers that they could speak out safely was one of Mr Stevens’s highest priorities. “He doesn’t want to muck about on this,” the source said. “He wants to get on with it as a matter of urgency.”
The six doctors and nurses who wrote to the health department asking for fresh investigations into their whistleblowing cases and a judge-led public inquiry have won support.
Sir Brian Jarman, professor of medicine at Imperial College, London, said that aspects of the culture regarding whistleblowers were “completely abhorrent” and only a public inquiry would deliver the change needed.
Julie Bailey, a whistleblower appointed CBE after her role in exposing the failings in Mid Staffordshire, said she was “fully in support” of the campaign.
Stephen Dorrell, a health secretary under John Major and chairman of the Commons health committee, said the NHS had been “found out” by its repeated failures to look after whistleblowers.
Both Mr Stevens and Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, have met with some of the most senior whistleblowers over the past few days. Mr Stevens was said to have been worried by what he heard. “There are some alarming things they say, including that they wouldn’t whistleblow again,” the source said. “We need to sort that out.”
A source close to the health secretary said that he was talking to his officials about possible changes to the whistleblowing regime and had not ruled out holding a public inquiry. “What we need to weigh up is the balance — whether an inquiry is the right way to get to the solutions that we need.”
Paying The Price For Speaking Out
After seven years as the head of Walsall Manor Hospital’s paediatric department, Dr Drew raised a series of concerns about poor patient care, including the claim that babies were being put at risk by the cold wards. The devout Christian was sacked in 2010 and accused of creating a “toxic environment”
The award-winning paediatric surgeon resigned from Alder Hey Children’s NHS trust in Liverpool three years after he and a colleague blew the whistle on fatalities and a culture of “fear and bullying” in 2009
Annabelle “Loo” Blackburn
Days after she started at a GP practice in north Oxford in 2010, the nurse reported that more than 300 blood samples had allegedly never been tested. One of these was said to have revealed that a man in his 70s had been suffering prostate cancer for four years. Mrs Blackburn lost a case against her trust for constructive dismissal
Mrs Fecitt turned whistleblower in 2008 after she and two other nurses at an NHS walk-in centre in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, warned managers that a colleague was allegedly unqualified. The three lost their employment dispute in the High Court. Mrs Fecitt now works for Patients First
A distinguished neuropsychologist, Professor Kapur was sacked by Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in 2010 after he complained repeatedly over several years that unqualified staff in some clinics were endangering patients. He was ruled to be a whistleblower at his tribunal and went on hunger strike to protest in 2012
The widowed radiographer was head of her department when she raised the alarm over alleged moonlighting by consultants at Ealing Hospital in 2007. Suspended and publicly marched out of the building, she spent four years fighting the trust in the courts and now risks losing her house