HSJ 19 FEBRUARY, 2016
- Manager at Barnet CCG dismissed after raising conflicts of interest
- Verita report says he should have been protected by the CCG’s whistleblowing policy and legislation
- Senior CCG staff said they were not aware he was making a whistleblowing complaint and contract was terminated because of sickness absence
A whistleblower was dismissed just days after raising concerns about conflicts of interest in a clinical commissioning group, HSJ can reveal.
A report obtained by HSJ said a manager at Barnet CCG contacted the chief operating officer last year to raise concerns about a “conflict of interest impacting on the CCG’s commissioning of primary care services”.
The report by consultancy firm Verita said the manager should have been protected by the CCG’s whistleblowing policy and public interest disclosure legislation.
Senior staff at the CCG said they were not aware he was making a whistleblowing complaint and his interim contract was terminated because of sickness absence.
However, the report concluded: “[His] contract was terminated days after he raised a conflict of interest concern. It is impossible to be sure if [it] was terminated because he raised a concern about conflict of interest.
“However, we know that if the CCG had recognised he was making a protected disclosure he should have been protected from victimisation.
“That the CCG did not did not recognise his status and that not all senior staff appear to recognise it now is of concern.”
Verita’s report, dated September 2015, said that on 15 May last year the whistleblower sent a letter raising his concerns to the chief operating officer Regina Shakespeare and three other directors.
The manager, who worked in primary care commissioning, met with director of quality and governance Vivienne Stimpson on 22 May. Ms Stimpson later told investigators that the manager had not used the term “whistleblowing” and that the aim of the meeting was to offer him support.
He told investigators that at the meeting on 22 May Ms Stimpson proposed to pursue only an “informal” review of his allegations.
The report said: “[The whistleblower] states that his suggestion that he would prefer a formal investigation was not welcomed and the meeting closed for him to consider his response.”
In her interview with Verita, Ms Stimpson said she believed someone in her team had already sent the manager a copy of the CCG’s whistleblowing policy. The report said because of this “she had offered to send him other relevant policies”.
He asked for time to think and it was agreed that by 28 May he would decide what to do.
The report said that up until this point he “had made no reference to whistleblowing, but only conflicts of interest”.
It said: “On reading the grievance and bullying and harassment policies, it became clear that these were not applicable to his situation.”
The whistleblower told Verita he asked the interim governance manager for the whistleblowing policy on 27 May and was directed to the CCG’s website.
He said after reading it he realised it was “completely applicable to my circumstances”.
Verita’s report said: “Upon realising he had not [earlier] been directed to the appropriate policy he ‘actually felt physically sick, and also could not concentrate on work, so I handed over urgent items to my team and [went] home sick’.
“He emailed his manager (who was on leave), Ms Stimpson and her PA because nobody was available to speak to him. He went home that afternoon and returned to work the following day.”
The next morning, before he could turn on his computer, Ms Shakespeare called him into her office and terminated his contract with immediate effect.
Verita said: “She told him she had concerns about his sickness absence and she was aware of his sick leave the previous day. She told him she needed reliable interims.”
The whistleblower later contacted a lay member of the board, in line with whistleblowing policy, and raised his concerns.
Ms Shakespeare told the investigators that the manager’s dismissal had nothing to do with the concerns he raised.
The Verita reported quotes her telling them: “I am entirely and completely clear that [the dismissed manager] hadn’t presented himself as a whistleblower.
“I’d made arrangements, with the advice of my director, on which policy and procedure to use. [The whistleblower] had begun to go along with that by having this meeting with [the director of governance].
“So when you say [he made] a whistleblowing allegation three days previously, prove it”.
Ms Shakespeare said no one told her the manager had made whistleblowing allegations and Verita quotes her telling them “for the record it would not have changed my position”.
The report does not say how much time the whistleblower had taken off work.
CCG chair Debbie Frost also said she was unaware of the whistleblowing allegations and if she had been she would not have sanctioned the dismissal.
The report quotes Dr Frost telling investigators: “He was already going to people asking about whistleblowing, but as I understand it, because had I heard that he was doing that, I don’t think I would have said ‘he needs to go’ together with the governing body.
“We wouldn’t have done that because we’re not stupid… it would be completely ridiculous for us to have done that or for [the chief operating officer] to have done that if someone is making whistleblowing allegations”.
The chair of the audit committee, Bernadette Conroy, is quoted in the report telling Verita: “At the time, I think I was led to believe he was on a fixed term contract and that it was expired. If I thought there was anything sinister about why his contract might have been terminated, it would have been actioned.”
A CCG spokeswoman said Ms Shakespeare had made a “planned departure” from the organisation in December, after being appointed on a fixed term contract in December 2014.