Independent on Sunday 15 February 2015
NHS whistleblower Dr David Drew writes an open letter to Sir Robert Francis, whose report on whistleblowing was published last week
Dear Sir Robert,
Thank you for the work you and your team put into the review. It will take time to digest the 222 page report. You have done a service to the NHS with your account of our experiences at the hands of hostile managers. More than 20,000 staff contributed to the review. The consistency of so many accounts of whistleblowers being victimised convinced you of their veracity. Few of us win at tribunal (you acknowledge the asymmetry of financial and legal resources) so our detractors have, in the past, been able to misrepresent our predicament. No longer.
Your descriptions of the forms our victimisation took and the impact this had are shocking, though not to us. Bullying was normal. Suspension, disciplinary action and dismissal were meted out with injurious consequences to our physical and psychological health. Careers were damaged or lost for challenging wrongdoing. Families were torn apart, houses lost, finances ruined. Many became ill; some died; some committed or contemplated suicide. At the launch of your report we held a one minute silence to honour those who did not survive the journey. All this you know.
And yet, at the end of your report you tell us that you can recommend no help to those who have suffered such atrocities for doing nothing but what was required of them by their professional ethical codes. This is despite prior recommendations by the Clwyd-Hart report, the January Health Committee report and the NHS Confederation. These all recognised the justice of our cause and the need for redress. They understand, as do the Hillsborough families, that injustice does not go away.
You have sent out exactly the wrong message. Whistleblowers are pawns who will not receive help, even from you. You have left us to our fate. This will have a further deterrent effect on staff raising concerns. The managers who have victimised us will feel more secure than they already were. They remain unaccountable. Patients who depend on our freedom to speak up will be less safe.
You see culture as central and make a number of recommendations for NHS culture change. You call for a just culture in which we learn from honest mistakes and do not punish those who make them. But how can a just culture be built on the foundation of injustice which is laid down by your failure to address the victimisation so many have experienced?
You acknowledge that culture change will be slow. Mr Hunt, optimistically, told the House it might take 10 years. Until the culture changes staff in poorly led trusts will continue to suffer, as will patients.
In 2001 Sir Ian Kennedy published his report on the Bristol Heart Scandal. In recommendation 107 he urged the development of a safe reporting system for patient harm. Your review, 14 years on, shows this has not happened. You have failed to explain why.
To do this will require a Public Inquiry. In the meantime a few CEO’s who have victimised whistleblowers should be despatched. Then we will applaud the overdue birth of your just culture.
Dr David Drew, an NHS consultant at Walsall Manor Hospital for over 19 years and latterly a whistleblower, is the author of ‘Little Stories of Life and Death’