A whistleblowing nurse has been awarded £80,000 by an employment tribunal that found she was unfairly dismissed after suffering “detriment” for making protected disclosures over patient safety concerns.
Elaine Fernandez won the case against Allied Healthcare Group, a provider of nursing services across the UK.
The tribunal described Ms Fernandez as a “dedicated and hardworking” member of staff who was seen by Allied Healthcare as a “troublemaker” who threatened its commercial interests.
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Since the ruling, the group has introduced a new governance model, whistleblowing regime and made a number of new senior appointments, including a medical director, a director of nursing and several regional heads of nursing.
Ms Fernandez began raising concerns about the safety of her patient in October 2011 with an email to Hywel Dda, a local health board in Wales that commissioned Allied to provide nursing services and had decided her patient should be cared for by healthcare assistants.
The confidential email, which argued that her patient could not be properly cared for by HCAs because they lacked the skills needed, was forwarded by the board to her managers at Allied Healthcare hours later.
She was threatened with disciplinary action the next day, according to the tribunal ruling.
Ms Fernandez received several further warnings from her managers for continuing to note her concerns in her patient’s logbook.
At one stage she was suspended without pay for not attending a meeting while on holiday, despite informing managers of the reason for her absence.
Her managers also attempted to encourage the patient’s husband to lodge a complaint against Ms Fernandez.
Allied Healthcare finally removed her from her patient’s care package in September and offered her no further work, despite vacancies being available.
The tribunal ruled that Ms Fernandez had been unfairly dismissed and had suffered “numerous detriments” as a result of her whistleblowing.
Her “sole motive” for speaking out had been to “protect the safety and welfare” of her patient, it added.
Ms Fernandez told HSJ: “Whistleblowing is traumatic, but it’s not something you have a choice about.
“In my case I didn’t have a choice because I knew the patient was at risk from staff who were not properly trained and that they would be coming back.
“When you are not listened to about patient safety concerns it is really hard and you feel a sense of despair about the whole system. The whole experience was traumatic.”
A spokesperson for Allied Healthcare said: “We have new systems to enable our colleagues to raise concerns of any kind, with new processes and protections that we believe are now the best in the sector.
“We are confident these will ensure this situation could not reoccur.
“There were some areas where the tribunal felt we could have done more to support the nurse in question during this change.
“Ultimately in this case both parties wanted to make sure the patient got the right care, however the change process could have been made much clearer.
“We now spend more time explaining change to our workers and helping them through it.”