An independent investigator who suggested an NHS pharmacist was too honest to work for the service is involved in Jeremy Hunt’s flagship scheme to encourage whistle-blowers to speak out, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Kelvin Cheatle was brought in from a private law firm to carry out an independent inquiry into the conduct of a staff member after she raised concerns at the now defunct Berkshire West Primary Care Trust.
He was exposed by this newspaper for apparently coaching witnesses during disciplinary proceedings against the whistle-blower, which prompted concerns about his independence.
He is now involved in Freedom to Speak Up workshops at NHS trusts across the country, encouraging health staff to raise concerns without fear of reprisal from management.
Maha Yassaie had been working as chief pharmacist at the NHS when she made a number of protected disclosures to regulators in 2011.
CREDIT: JULIAN SIMMONDS/TELEGRAPH
Accusations of bullying were then lodged against her, which Mr Cheatle was brought in to investigate in 2012.
In one exchange during a meeting with Mrs Yassaie, the investigator said: “I am thinking that if I had your values I would find it very difficult to work in the NHS.”
The HR consultant claimed there had been a “breakdown of relationship” at her workplace. Mrs Yassaie was later dismissed from her role.
The whistle-blower was later awarded £375,000 in a settlement in 2014, with the Department of Health admitting parts of the investigation and disciplinary processes were “flawed”.
A spokesman for Capsticks, where Mr Cheatle works, said the company had not been engaged by the Department of Health regarding the Speak Up initiative, but confirmed they had jointly hosted an event last year.
He said: “Capsticks and Mr Cheatle provide ongoing support to NHS Trusts around the country in the implementation of the Speak Up initiative.”
The spokesman insisted that Mrs Yassaie’s whistle-blowing allegations were investigated separately by the Trust and not by Mr Cheatle. He said Mr Cheatle had not questioned Mrs Yassaie’s ethics.
He added that Mr Cheatle’s exchanges with Mrs Yassaie concentrated on bullying allegations, and denied any coaching or rehearsing of witnesses. The decision to sack Mrs Yassaie was taken by the Trust, he said.