- Lead Barrister said whistleblowers treated as ‘snitches and backstabbers’
- Called for guardians at each NHS trust to protect those who expose abuse
- But report contains no extra legal protection for those who come forward
- Campaigners brand it an ‘affront’, ’empty words’ and ‘disappointing’
A report into the NHS’s shocking treatment of whistleblowers was yesterday branded a ‘whitewash’ that will do nothing to protect staff who raise concerns.
The long-awaited findings warned of a culture of ‘fear, bullying and ostracisation’ within the health service that punished doctors and nurses who dared speak out.
But whistleblowers whose careers have been ruined after issuing warnings over patient care were furious that among the 20 recommendations were no sanctions against bosses who bullied staff or made them sign gagging orders.
There is also growing unease about a key clause in the report which strongly urges whistleblowers not to speak to the Press – advising staff instead to talk to journalists only as a ‘last resort’ to avoid causing ‘considerable distress.’
One measure even includes a full-time ‘whistleblowing guardian’ at every hospital and Trust to whom staff could go with their concerns.
Led by barrister Sir Robert Francis, who chaired two major inquiries into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal, the report told of how whistleblowers are too often derided as ‘snitches, troublemakers and backstabbers.’
It said many are ‘victimised’ by managers, forced out of their jobs and unable to find other work because they are in effect blacklisted in the NHS.
The Government has promised to enforce all of Sir Robert’s 20 recommendations and other key reforms aimed at changing NHS culture so that staff can raise concerns without fear of reprisals.
Yet whistleblowers said the document contained ‘empty words’ that failed to protect staff and deterred them from speaking to the media – which in the past had helped them expose numerous NHS scandals.
Many felt they had no choice after their concerns were repeatedly ignored by hospital bosses and watchdogs. Gary Walker, the chief executive who was sacked from United Lincolnshire Hospitals after raising concerns that patients were dying, said the recommendations were an ‘affront’ to whistleblowers.
He called for criminal sanctions against managers who forced staff to sign gagging agreements.
Mr Walker, 43, was ordered to sign a £500,000 gagging order in 2012 which he bravely defied by speaking to the Mail the following year.
John Marchant, who lost his job as head of security at The Dudley Group Foundation Trust after raising concerns that patients were being restrained, said: ‘No one is being held to account.
‘The CEOs (chief executives) at these hospital Trusts are still CEOs and if they get a lot of complaints they just move to another position as a CEO,’
Julie Bailey, who helped expose the Mid Staffordshire scandal after the death of her mother Bella in 2007, said the report was ‘disappointing’ and did not go far enough.
She called for criminal sanctions against managers who victimise whistleblowers.
‘The new report is a little disappointing,’ she said. ‘There is no more protection for whistleblowers as a result.
‘Robert Francis’ recommendations from the Mid Staffs report were that there should be criminal sanctions against these people.
‘He didn’t want a blame culture but we need people held to account in society as a whole.
‘Until we start doing that, we are never going to get a change of culture in the NHS.’
Sir Robert was asked by the Government to lead a review on the treatment of NHS whistleblowers last June after heading two inquiries into Mid Staffordshire hospital which concluded that at least 400 patients died from neglect.
The barrister and his team spoke to 600 NHS staff while 19,800 other employees gave their views on an online survey.
His 222-page report concluded that managers were inclined to ‘delay, defend and deny’ allegations made by whistleblowers – often because they were implicated.
Sir Robert said: ‘What I heard during the course of the review from staff, employers, regulators and unions and others leaves me in no doubt that there’s a serious problem in the NHS.
‘Too often, honestly-expressed anxieties have met with hostility and breakdown of working relationships. Worse still, some people suffer life-changing events, they lose their jobs, their careers and even their health.
Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (left) promised to call time on bullying within the NHS, backing all of the report’s proposals, a move echoed by shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham (right)
‘We heard all too frequently of jobs being lost, but also of serious psychological damage, even to the extent of suicidal depression.
‘In short, lives can be ruined by poor handling of staff who have raised concerns.’
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised to call time on ‘bullying, intimidation and victimisation’ which has ‘no place in our NHS.’
He told the Commons: ‘The only way we will build an NHS with the highest standards is if the doctors and nurses who have given their lives to patient care always feel listened to when they speak out about patient care.
‘The message must go out today that we are calling time on bullying, intimidation and victimisation, which have no place in our NHS.’
‘We will ensure that every member of staff, NHS manager and NHS leader has proper training on how to raise concerns and how to treat people who raise concerns.’
Labour also backed the recommendations and Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said there was ‘plenty of common ground’ between the two parties,
He added: ‘Our shared aim must be to create a climate where any NHS worker feels able to raise concerns, confident they will be listened to and that appropriate action will be taken and not face mistreatment as a result.’
GOING PUBLIC ‘SHOULD BE LAST RESORT’ TO AVOID CAUSING ‘DISTRESS’
The Francis review does not suggest any reforms on the issue of whether whistleblowers who go public should be protected.
Instead, it merely says the status quo should apply – hidden away on page 190 of the report.
In just a few paragraphs, Sir Robert Francis says that staff should only contact the Press as a ‘last resort’.
He wrote: ‘For a disclosure to be made straight into the public domain, to someone who is not a prescribed person, a higher bar applies.
‘I am not proposing any changes to this. Disclosures to the Press should be a last resort. There is a strong possibility of misrepresentation if the facts have not yet been investigated.
‘This can be damaging. It can cause considerable distress to the individuals involved, to the organisation as a whole, and can worry the public unnecessarily.’
According to the report, lawyers currently consult an amendment to the Employment Rights Act 1996 for guidance on whether a whistleblower would face disciplinary action or the sack. It states that staff can only speak out if the disclosure is considered ‘reasonable’.
In addition, other conditions must be met including that the worker should ‘reasonably’ believe that raising a concern with their boss could be of ‘detriment’ to them.
Whistleblowers could still be protected if they felt damning evidence was in danger of being concealed or destroyed, or if they felt they were being ignored.
NHS workers victimised for revealing hospital scandals to Press
FORCED TO SIGN GAGGING CONTRACT
Gary Walker submitted a large body of evidence to the inquiry but was never asked about his experiences or his recommendations.
He told the Mail that the report was a ‘whitewash’ and that it provides no extra protection for staff who raise concerns.
‘Patients are dying and whistleblowers are being sacked for pointing that out,’ he said.
‘The report doesn’t address that and Francis clearly hasn’t understood the seriousness of the problem. He’s a man of the establishment and he protects the establishment and has produced the report that you would expect. Francis has pulled his punches.
‘This report will not change the NHS at all. I don’t see any change in culture as a result. There is no extra protection for whistleblowers as a result of this report.’
Mr Walker, 43, was sacked as chief executive of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust after raising concerns that meeting targets were being put ahead of patient safety.
He was forced to sign a £500,000 gagging contract, but broke his silence with the Daily Mail following the Robert Francis report into Mid-Staffordshire where up to 1,200 patients died unnecessarily.
‘I broke my gag because his report failed to apportion any blame and did not hold any individuals to account,’ he said.
‘This has now happened again. All the people who have gagged whistleblowers in the past will carry on in their jobs with their big fat salaries and will not be held to account. The solution is to sack the people who victimise the whistleblowers.’
Mr Walker said that an independent person from outside the NHS should be appointed for whistleblowers to bring their concerns to.
‘It’s not safe for whistleblowers to report their concerns to employers,’ he added. ‘It’s been proved by the hundreds of whistleblowers out there who have been sacked, gagged and had their lives destroyed after reporting concerns.’
Last night, other NHS whistleblowers told of their fury that their former bosses had not been named and shamed and branded the report a ‘whitewash’.
‘HIRED TO FIDDLE DEATH FIGURES’
NHS whistleblower Sandra Haynes Kirkbright said no one had even bothered to call her to hear her story for the Francis report.
The administrator was suspended for almost three years after claiming she was hired by The Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust to fiddle death figures.
‘I am still in limbo,’ she said. ‘Nobody called me about the Francis report. They don’t want to talk to me now. They didn’t care enough to call me.
‘Has anything changed? This is all just about a political agenda.’
13-YEAR BATTLE OVER UNFAIR DISMISSAL
Top surgeon Raj Mattu warned that whistleblowers were ‘no safer’ following the report.
The doctor was unfairly dismissed and persecuted for a decade after warnings over cardiac patient safety at University Hospital Coventry but was cleared of wrongdoing after a 13-year battle costing the taxpayer £10million.
He said of the Francis report: ‘He’s given charge of the solution to the very people who were part of the problem in the first place – those who were instrumental in the Mid-Staffs cover-up and instrumental in cases against whistleblowers like myself and David Drew.
‘Leopards don’t change their spots. I would say to NHS whistleblowers, you are no safer today than you were yesterday. This is a missed opportunity to make the NHS safer for patients.’
John Marchant lost his job as head of security at The Dudley Group Foundation Trust after raising concerns that elderly patients and children were being restrained against their will.
Of yesterday’s report, he said: ‘No one is being held to account.
‘The CEOs at these hospital trusts are still CEOs and if they get a lot of complaints they just move to another position as a CEO.
‘Why publish it? It is not holding people to account. Just another whitewash.
‘CATASTROPHIC’ FAILURES WARNING
Paediatrician David Drew, who was sacked after complaining about ‘catastrophic’ failures at Walsall Manor Hospital, said the report failed to address previous whistleblowing cases.
‘What we want is all our old cases opened up, so we can have some actual retribution,’ he said.
‘We need our jobs back, our careers back. We need a proper public inquiry and to have the individual cases looked at.
‘There have been some evil CEOs. The whole toxic lying and bullying has to come out. Some of the bosses should go to jail for what they have done.’
FORCED OUT AFTER REPORTING £250K LOSS
Sharmila Chowdhury, who has suffered cancer since losing her job, said that it was ‘scandalous’ that no one had been held to account.
The radiography manager for Ealing Hospital NHS Trust was sacked for telling bosses that £250,000 of public money had been lost through moonlighting by two medical consultants.
‘It’s scandalous that we have lost our jobs, careers and in some cases our homes and health, yet still no one has been held to account,’ she said.
‘The CEOs are left to enjoy a normal life despite their wrong-doing, while whistleblowers who did their job and spoke up have been left with nothing.’
SPOKE OUT ABOUT BRUTAL TREATMENT
David Ore, who was fired for complaining about the brutal treatment of patients at the failing Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, said the report contained ‘empty words’.
‘The report is grossly unfair to the frontline workers who raise concerns then get ignored, marginalised and accused of trumped up accusations,’ he said.
‘It’s a lot of empty words that will have cost the public a few million pounds to say what we all knew already.’