A landmark report into NHS whistleblowing failed to help medics who have already suffered for speaking out, and sends out “exactly the wrong message”, a prominent whistleblower has claimed.
The report, compiled by the respected lawyer Sir Robert Francis, recommended a string of reforms including the appointment of a new national officer for NHS whistleblowing, as well as whistleblowing “guardians” at every hospital.
However, paediatrician Dr David Drew said that by offering “no help to those who have suffered” the report would in fact have a “further deterrent effect on staff raising concerns”.
A former clinical director at Walsall Manor Hospital, Dr Drew was dismissed in December 2010, having previously raised concerns about what he said were poor standards of care.
He lost an employment tribunal appeal of unfair dismissal in 2013, but maintains that he was sacked for his whistleblowing activities.
In an open letter to Sir Robert published on Independent.co.uk, Dr Drew also questioned how the culture change the report said is needed could be achieved on a “foundation of injustice”.
Reforms set out in the Freedom to Speak Up report received a cross-party welcome last week. The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said they could be fast-tracked into law before the general election.
The report was ordered in the wake of several prominent cases, including Dr Drew’s, in which NHS staff were allegedly victimised by their employer after speaking out about patient safety fears. Many have lost their jobs or suffered ill health as a result. Sir Robert said that the treatment of some of whistleblowers had been “truly shocking”.
While recommending that staff be protected from discrimination on the grounds of whistleblowing and calling for a new support service to get whistleblowers back into work, the report steered clear of adjudicating on individual cases and acknowledges that some whistleblowers would feel “their own personal issues have not been addressed”.
In his letter Dr Drew writes: “…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….
“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 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?”
He said that NHS chief executives who had victimised whistleblowers should be “despatched” and urged a public inquiry into whistleblowing.
Sir Robert’s report concluded that some individual cases had “endured over such a long time, and the issues have become so complex, that the most rigorous inquiry devoted to each such case would not have been able to resolve matters for those involved”.