STEPHEN GLOVER: This vengeful persecution of whistleblowers in the NHS is yet another ‘triumph’ for Lord Leveson

By STEPHEN GLOVER FOR THE DAILY MAIL
11 February 2016

Sir Robert Francis published a report about the abominable treatment of whistleblowers in the NHS (file image)

Sir Robert Francis published a report about the abominable treatment of whistleblowers in the NHS

A year ago today, Sir Robert Francis published his long-awaited report about the abominable treatment of whistleblowers in the NHS. It referred to a culture of ‘fear, bullying and ostracisation’ within the health service that punished any doctor or nurse who spoke out.
Sir Robert made 20 recommendations, which the Government agreed to implement. They included appointing a national whistleblowing tsar and installing dedicated guardians at every hospital to whom employees could go with their concerns.
So, did the report herald a new dawn in which medical staff would be able to report examples of misconduct, ineptitude and downright cruelty without fear of their careers being blighted? Are our hospitals (three-quarters of which were described as unsafe in a recent official report) on the road to becoming appreciably safer?

I’m afraid the answer to all these questions is ‘No’. Although the recommendations certainly represented a move in the right direction, there were some alarming omissions. For example, the report did not propose sanctions against health bosses who bullied staff or made them sign gagging orders.And Sir Francis (who is a lawyer) strongly urged whistleblowers not to speak to the Press, advising staff to talk to journalists only as a ‘last resort’ to avoid causing ‘considerable distress’.
This echoed an even more draconian recommendation in Lord Justice Leveson’s infamous 2012 report on the Press. Police whistleblowers were warned against going to journalists with stories and advised to seek out other ‘confidential avenues in which they may have faith’, such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission. So much for openness!
A year having passed since the Francis Report, we should hardly be surprised that whistleblowers appear to be suffering as bad a time in the NHS as they ever did. According to 14 signatories — they include doctors and safety campaigners — who have written a letter to The Times, very little has changed.
The lead signatory is Sir Brian Jarman, a distinguished physician and former president of the British Medical Association. Seven of the signatories have been whistleblowers, so they have personal experience of the implacable and vengeful conduct of NHS top management towards anyone who dares speak out.
Sir Francis (who is a lawyer) strongly urged whistleblowers not to speak to the Press, advising staff to talk to journalists only as a ‘last resort’ to avoid causing ‘considerable distress’. This echoed an even more draconian recommendation in Lord Justice Leveson’s infamous 2012 report on the Press

Sir Francis (who is a lawyer) strongly urged whistleblowers not to speak to the Press, advising staff to talk to journalists only as a ‘last resort’ to avoid causing ‘considerable distress’. This echoed an even more draconian recommendation in Lord Justice Leveson’s infamous 2012 report on the Press
The signatories’ central contention is that to their knowledge not a single sacked whistle- blower has found comparable re-employment. Nor has any director of an NHS trust been reprimanded for misbehaviour in public office.
They also claim that the much-vaunted new system of guardians is ineffectual. The national whistleblowing tsar, Dr Eileen Sills, turns out to be a pretty toothless part-time appointment with ‘a restricted remit and no statutory powers’.
As for a guardian in every hospital, if the 14 doctors are to be believed, most NHS bodies have recruited pen-pushers from their own ranks, rather than hiring outsiders who would be more likely to be independent-minded.

In other words, what we have is a predictable stitch-up by the powers-that-be. If Sir Francis’s recommendations had been adopted in their entirety, and in the spirit they were made, there would have been some modest, but welcome progress. As it is, we have gained almost nothing at all.
Should we be surprised by what has happened? I don’t think so. It is going to take much more than a number of not very swingeing recommendations to undo the ingrained addiction to secrecy and skulduggery of the overpaid panjandrums who are responsible for the biggest bureaucracy in Europe.
Despite the breath of fresh air which was supposed to be ushered in by the Francis Report, the past year has seen the customary crop of cases of doctors being victimised by senior managers for disclosing unwelcome truths.
Six months ago, J. Meirion Thomas, an eminent cancer surgeon, was drummed out of his job at a renowned London hospital. His ‘crime’ was to have written a series of articles (including some for the Mail) about GPs, the scale of health tourism and his own treatment by senior management at the Royal Marsden Hospital. Of course, the one thing these numbskulls will never forgive is talking to the Press.
Last October, a medical professor anonymously revealed that at least 55 patients were needlessly put through the agony of weeks of chemotherapy by two incompetent colleagues. The treatment was of no use to the patients because their type of cancer required a different approach.
The whistleblower’s bosses at the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust gagged the professor and then named him. Next, in a contemptible act of revenge, they attempted to discredit him on the trust’s website. As the professor justly observed: ‘It’s a fantasy that exists in Westminster that whistleblowers are protected. But hospitals will do anything to protect their reputation.’
That was certainly true in the case of another doctor, Raj Mattu, who was awarded £1.2 million in damages last week after a tribunal found that he had been wrongly dismissed for exposing the deaths of two patients in dangerously overcrowded bays at his hospital.
But the payment is no compensation for a man who has spent nearly 15 traumatic years trying to restore his reputation, and is unable to take up his job again having spent so many years not practising medicine. Some £10 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent in legal ruses to gag and ruin him.
It’s another story for David Loughton, who was in charge of the hospital in Coventry where Dr Mattu worked. Since 2004, he has been chief executive of the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust — the same body guilty of vilifying the anonymous professor — and is paid more than £200,000 a year.
Two years ago, Mr Loughton was accused of threatening another whistleblower, Sandra Haynes-Kirkbright, who had claimed that his hospital was fiddling death-rate figures. Despite being criticised for his ‘aggressive and bullying’ manner in covering up scandals to the detriment of patient safety, he continues to draw a pay cheque most medical practitioners could never dream of receiving.
What happened to Dr Mattu could still happen just as easily to any doctor or nurse speaking out today. After the publication of the Francis Report, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, expressed his shock at the ‘bullying, intimidation and victimisation’ which it had revealed.
But it’s still going on, and it is disingenuous of Mr Hunt to pretend that a little window-dressing will put an end to all the nasty practices that health authorities have perfected over the years. He surely can’t believe that a quick wave of his wand has solved everything.
Mr Hunt is not a bad Health Secretary, but he has a regrettable habit of distancing himself from bad things that are firmly in his bailiwick as though they are not his responsibility. The continuing persecution of whistleblowers most certainly is.
More is urgently needed from the minister. The signatories to The Times’ letter sensibly demand the establishment of a new independent body with ‘powers to investigate and remedy poor whistleblowing governance by public bodies’.
It also bears repeating — though Lord Justice Leveson and Sir Robert Francis could not see it — that without a free Press, whistleblowers would be in an even worse predicament in the face of arrogant and overbearing bosses trying to gag them.

 

One thought on “STEPHEN GLOVER: This vengeful persecution of whistleblowers in the NHS is yet another ‘triumph’ for Lord Leveson

  1. hat without a free Press, whistleblowers would be in an even worse predicament in the face of arrogant and overbearing bosses trying to gag them. free press you got to be joking mostly the tory news yet yourselfs has doctors are baying at the moon if you thought that this lot would help out nah you should now this they selling off the nhs and dont want any part of whisle blowers schemes that protect them rather they would leave you go quietly into the night jeff3

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