The Mail on Line 11 February 2016
- No doctors sacked for exposing care scandals have been given jobs back
- Jeremy Hunt accused of failing to act on landmark whistleblowing report
- Hospital staff have said punishments for speaking out are ‘Kafkaesque’
- Tory MP pointed to ‘evidence that whistleblowers are not being protected’
No doctors sacked for exposing care scandals have been given their jobs back at the same level, it emerged yesterday.
Senior medical figures accused Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of failing to act on a landmark report into NHS whistleblowing.
In a dramatic intervention, 14 medics and campaigners wrote to a national newspaper saying there had been ‘no meaningful change’ a year on.
‘To our knowledge, not a single sacked whistleblower has been found comparable reemployment,’ they claimed.
Referring to the hounding of doctors and nurses by hospital managers, they added: ‘Not a single trust director has been reprimanded under the fit and proper persons regulation.’
Senior medical figures accused Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of failing to act on a landmark report into NHS whistleblowing.
Hospital staff say the punishments for speaking out are Kafkaesque – and make them feel as if they are living behind the Iron Curtain.
Andrew Percy, a Tory member of the Commons health committee, called for a parliamentary inquiry. ‘There is a lot of evidence that whistleblowers are not being protected, that many staff in the NHS are being intimidated or are fearful of coming forward,’ he said.
‘This is totally unacceptable and is evidence of why our committee needs to look at this again. The Department of Health needs to be cognisant of the concerns on this.’
Sir Robert Francis compiled last year’s report warning of a culture of ‘fear, bullying and ostracisation’ within the NHS that punished doctors and nurses who dared speak out.
DR MINH ALEXANDER
WORKED: Consultant psychiatrist with Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, a mental health service provider, from 2007 to 2013.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: How instances of patient harm, including suicides and deaths in custody, homicides, rape and arson were sometimes not reported through the appropriate channels.
CONSEQUENCE: Took redundancy by ‘mutual agreement’. Told British Medical Association she thought it was going to be the end of her career.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Has not applied for more NHS work over fears she has effectively been blacklisted.
SHE SAYS: ‘The suppression of staff… will not go away until decision-makers truly accept it is better to run a service in which staff and patients have a voice. Otherwise, the unhealthy culture, financial and human cost will continue… My decision to report concerns… did not make me popular.’
WORKED: Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: ‘Unnecessary’ fatalities among children who had had surgery.
What he felt was a bullying culture in theatres with staff afraid to raise concerns, and lessons from errors not being learned.
CONSEQUENCE: Faced opposition from senior colleagues and, he believes, the trust itself.
Left the hospital. Marriage broke down due to the stress.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Has applied for NHS jobs and not been shortlisted.
Fears he has been blacklisted as a troublemaking whistleblower.
Now working in academic research in Melbourne, Australia.
HE SAYS: ‘It took a great deal for me to become a whistleblower.
It was not a step I took lightly. The whole experience has been utterly administrating.’
It told how whistleblowers were too often derided as ‘snitches, troublemakers and backstabbers’.
Sir Robert, a barrister who chaired two major inquiries into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal, said many were unable to find work because of an ‘effective blacklist’.
The Government promised to enforce all his 20 recommendations, which were aimed at changing NHS culture to protect whistleblowers from reprisals. One measure was to ensure all trusts appointed a guardian to deal with concerns from health workers. But in the letter to The Times yesterday the guardians were described as toothless – often simply establishment candidates appointed by trust bosses.
And the signatories pointed out that the national guardian, Dame Eileen Sills, has a restricted remit with no real powers in law. Appointed in January, she is also part-time, covering just two days a week.
The letter was organised by Professor Sir Brian Jarman, the former BMA president who did pioneering work on hospital mortality rates.
It was signed by seven NHS whistleblowers, including Dr Stephen Bolsin, who highlighted death rates at Bristol Royal Infirmary and Dr Kim Holt, who lifted the lid on safety concerns at Great Ormond Street.
The signatories demanded the establishment of an independent body with ‘powers to investigate and remedy poor whistleblowing governance by public bodies’.
DR RAJ MATTU
WORKED: Heart surgeon at Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: In 2001, exposed the fact two patients had died in dangerously overcrowded bays where staff had difficulty reaching life-saving equipment.
CONSEQUENCE: A year later, suspended on full pay for seven years after being accused of bullying. Dismissed in 2010.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Claims he was unable to return to old job and experienced increasing hostility from trust managers. Health deteriorated. Sacked while in his hospital bed. Won £1.22million damages after employment tribunal.
HE SAYS: ‘The way I have been treated is nothing short of an outrage and a scandal … trust managers tried to destroy me. It was a form of torture.’
WORKED: Chief executive at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: Concerns targets were a higher priority than patient safety.
CONSEQUENCE: Sacked and forced to sign £500,000 gagging contract. Broke silence with Daily Mail to hold individuals to account over Mid-Staffs scandal.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Applied for around 150 jobs in NHS in England. Shortlisted for only two in five years. Now working for a health regulator in Northern Ireland.
HE SAYS: ‘Nothing has changed. We have more whistleblowers than ever on the unemployment lines and not one of them has been re-instated in their job. I would never advise anyone to whistleblow, unless they can do it anonymously.’
They called for a new appeal mechanism against ineffective local investigations by employers, full reform of whistleblower protection legislation and reform of NHS disciplinary processes.
Health minister Ben Gummer insisted good progress was being made on making the NHS safe for whistleblowers, and that all hospitals had been told to take action to support those who spoke out.
But yesterday one of the signatories, Professor Narinder Kapur, who was sacked after he raised safety concerns at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, told the Mail he had struggled to find work afterward and felt he was blacklisted.
The neuropsychologist is now working three days a week as a locum in Leeds, hundreds of miles from his family home in Harrow, north-west London. He said: ‘It’s the only job I could get.
‘The only way that NHS trusts will take back whistleblowers is if their willingness to do so is part of their appraisal by the health regulator.
‘Whistleblowers lose their jobs and their incomes, their physical and mental wellbeing suffers and their family life is ruined.
DR KEVIN BEATT
WORKED: Cardiologist at Croydon University Hospital.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: Told an inquest in 2013 he was forced to carry out part of a heart operation without nursing assistance, which contributed to the patient’s death.
Concerns over inadequate equipment, bullying and harassment of junior employees, removal of key staff, a lack of competent nurses and the failure to properly investigate serious incidents.
CONSEQUENCE: Suspended shortly after the inquest and then dismissed.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Won unfair dismissal case but finds it impossible to get an NHS job.
HE SAYS: ‘I’ve applied… but never got shortlisted.
‘It’s akin to being in an Eastern Bloc country in the Cold War years.’
DR STEPHEN BOSLIN
WORKED: Anaesthetist at Bristol Royal Infirmary.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: Reported concerns about infant deaths at the hospital in 1990. Bosses were dismissive and Dr Bolsin began to count the number of children dying, which showed the death rate was twice the national average. The next year, heart operations at the hospital were stopped. The cardiac unit was dubbed the ‘killing fields’.
CONSEQUENCE: He initially continued working in the NHS but felt ostracised and was passed over for private work.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Dr Bolsin and his wife moved to Melbourne, Australia, where he has practised ever since.
HE SAYS: ‘In the end I just couldn’t go on putting those children to sleep, with their parents present in the anaesthetic room, knowing that it was almost certain to be the last time they would see their sons or daughters alive.’
‘It’s like getting four life sentences for standing up and doing the right thing.’Another whistleblower, Gary Walker, who was sacked as an NHS trust chief executive after he raised concerns that hitting targets was a higher priority than patient safety, told the Mail he had applied for around 150 NHS jobs and was shortlisted only for two.
He said: ‘The NHS has such a culture of command and control that it can’t cope with anyone speaking out. It’s a terribly bullying culture and that has not changed. If anything it has got worse.
‘We have more whistleblowers than ever on the unemployment lines and not one of them has been reinstated in their job. I would never advise anyone to whistleblow, unless they can do it anonymously.’
A retired police inspector brought in to investigate allegations of misconduct against a whistleblower at one NHS trust told how he was himself sacked after raising concerns that the accusations were unfounded.
The former officer said: ‘I was expected to be the assassin. I had had a distinguished career and had retired from the police with unblemished character. ‘The trust’s own policy said that such investigations had to be completed fairly but I would say the allegations were unfounded.’
DR OTTO CHAN
WORKED: Consultant radiologist at Barts and the London.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: X-ray files and scans belonging to thousands of patients were dumped unchecked in boxes.
CONSEQUENCE: Dismissed in 2006 after trust management carried out a ‘clipboard exercise’ to quiz his colleagues for any other instance of possible misconduct. Branded a ‘troublemaker’.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Was offered work at another hospital – until his old trust got in touch with its executives. Now back in the NHS, working part-time at the Royal Free and Whittington hospitals in London.
HE SAYS: ‘It’s almost impossible to get future employment in the NHS if you’re dismissed. Chief executives of different trusts stick together.’
PROFESSOR NARINDER KAPUR
WORKED: Neuropsychologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: The use of under-qualified staff in clinics, which he warned was putting patients at risk.
CONSEQUENCE: Sacked in 2010. A tribunal ruled he was unfairly dismissed but he was not reinstated.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Professor Kapur said he was effectively blacklisted as a ‘trouble-maker’. He is now working three days a week as a locum in Leeds, hundreds of miles from his family in North London.
HE SAYS: ‘Whistleblowers lose their jobs and their incomes, their physical and mental wellbeing suffers and their family life is ruined.
It’s like getting four life sentences for standing up and doing the right thing.’
He said that when he reported concerns about the investigation into the whistleblower, he was initially ignored then ‘I became the whistleblower, I became the problem’. Following his dismissal he received an out of court settlement after launching his own unfair dismissal proceedings.
Only last week, Dr Raj Mattu was granted £1.2million in damages after a tribunal found he had been wrongly dismissed for exposing the deaths of two patients in dangerously overcrowded bays at his hospital.
He was hounded for over a decade in a ‘witch-hunt’ costing the taxpayer more than £10million. He has since been unable to get a job in the NHS.
He told the Mail: ‘This letter should be a very serious warning to the chiefs of the healthcare system in England, that despite many soundbites and promises of protecting patients and then whistleblowers, there has been no palpable change since the Francis report.
‘I would strongly caution anybody who is thinking of whistleblowing from doing so.
‘I would want to protect them and their families from enduring the nightmare that I have had to live with for 15 years, and their lives and careers being ruined.’
And Dr Minh Alexander, forced out after she exposed suicides at a mental health trust in Cambridgeshire, said: ‘The suppression of staff who speak up is a very old problem and will not go away until decision makers truly accept that it is better to run a service in which staff and patients have a voice.’
DR KIM HOLT
WORKED: Consultant paediatrician at St Ann’s Clinic in Tottenham, North London.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: Was one of four doctors who warned that understaffing and poor record-keeping posed a serious risk to patient safety in 2006.
CONSEQUENCE: The warning was ignored and Dr Holt faced bullying then suffered depression and went on leave.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Dr Holt says she was offered £120,000 to sign a confidentiality contract but refused. She was eventually allowed back to work after her clinic was transferred to a different NHS trust. She received a formal apology from her former trust.
SHE SAYS: ‘The whole culture towards whistleblowers is pretty toxic. It’s a miracle that I’m back in my job.’
LADY MAHA YASSALE (NO PICTURE)
WORKED: Chief pharmacist for Berkshire Primary Care Trust.
BLEW WHISTLE ON: Patient safety concerns about prescriptions, made in protected evidence which cannot be disclosed.
CONSEQUENCE: Suspended and dismissed after numerous allegations were made unrelated to Lady Yassaie’s work. Launched employment tribunal proceedings but received an out-of-court settlement before the case was heard.
EFFECT ON NHS CAREER: Lady Yassaie lost another NHS job in 2014 after, she believes, management found out about her earlier case.
SHE SAYS: ‘There is nothing to protect whistleblowers at all.
None of my concerns have ever been looked into properly.’
Justin Madders, Labour’s health spokesman, said: ‘Jeremy Hunt cannot dismiss these concerns any longer and needs to start taking whistleblowers’ rights seriously. Unfortunately, reports of bullying and harassment in the NHS are still too commonplace.’
A spokesman for the Department of Health said some cases against managers under the Francis rules were ongoing with none declared unfit yet.
She said no figures were kept on the jobs of whistleblowers.