Press release: Patient care remains at risk in Berkshire West while whistle blowers are victimised

Maha Yassaie 15 October 2016

Patient care remains at risk whilst a professional regulator acts on a vexatious referral against a whistleblower, and relies on a witness statement deemed unreliable by the NHS’ own investigator and DH’s legal advisors

For further information please email mhyassaie@gmail.com

I am an NHS whistle blower who made 3 protected disclosures, and although of previously unblemished record with a successful career, I was sacked by Berkshire PCT in Nov 2012. On July 2012 I was referred to my professional regulator (please see the full details below) in reprisal, and my former employer also contracted an external “independent” investigator to investigate me. Both the regulatory referral and engagement with the investigator were made before any official complaints had actually been made about me. The investigator contracted by the NHS coached witnesses against me. Staff who previously supported me changed their accounts.

The key witness against me was deemed to have given unreliable evidence, even by the trust’s investigator. After it became clear that the trust was unable to discipline me for misconduct (alleged bullying, harassment, concern about financial management and commissioning of providers contracts) , it dismissed me on grounds of alleged “breakdown of relationships”. I took legal action for unfair dismissal, detriment as a result of whistleblowing  and  disability  discrimination.  The  NHS  offered  settlement  with  a  sum  of £375,000 and agreed to my condition that I would not be gagged. The NHS gave written apologies acknowledging that I had been subject to flawed disciplinary process and that the referral to my professional regulator had also arisen from the flawed process.

The nightmare however did not end there as the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC)
ploughed on with the flawed referral against me. Ultimately the GPhC was unable to uphold
16 of the allegations against me as misconduct but upheld a seventeenth allegation in a softened form. My lawyers advised me if I were to submit an apology, simply to show I had ‘insight’ I could avoid a warning. I have decided not to do so, as apologizing  for something that I did not do would be false and against my principles.

History

1.  In 2001 after a competitive interview process I got my job as Pharmaceutical Advisor in
Wokingham PCT.
2.   In September 2002, after just 8 months in post and in recognition of my achievements in appropriate, effective and affordable prescribing, my job was re-graded and I promoted to the PCT’s Chief Pharmacist position.
3.   Again in 2003, due to the quality of my work and the substantial savings I made whilst improving quality of care, I was upgraded.
4.  Once again, in 2005, due to my performance on promoting patient safety and cost-effective prescribing I was promoted. At that stage I was at the highest possible clinical grade
5.   In 2007 after the mergers of 3 PCTs in Berkshire West I went through competitive interview and was appointed as the Chief Pharmacist of Berkshire West and shortly afterwards was also appointed as the Accountable Officer for controlled drugs.
6. From 2001 to 2011  I was highly regarded in Berkshire West  as a senior clinical manager. I had an extremely professional and good relationships with the executive of the PCT. My team and myself   were  also identified as the most effective and motivated team and team leader in the PCT and I  was highly regarded nationally for my patient-focused and clinically-driven cost- effective recommendations and processes.
7.   From April 2011 to July 2012, I made three protected disclosures about patient safety and/or governance matters. Unfortunately since April 2011 as the result of my disclosures, I was subjected to hostile behaviour from the PCT executives and ultimate consequences of these disclosures were for the PCT to suspend, sack and then black list me.

Related Published Articles

For more details of my story, protected disclosure and black listing please see

1)    NHS whistle-blower investigator in ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ role” – The Telegraph
2)  “Whistleblowers being ‘blacklisted by NHS’ as staff records state they were ‘dismissed’ even after being cleared at tribunal” – The Telegraph

GPhC and DH

8.  When I was sacked I informed the GPhC in late 2012 that I was sacked for “breakdown of relationships”. The GPhC informed me that was an HR matter and they could not get involved in HR issues
9.  On July 2013 I was informed by the legal advisors of the GPhC that I had been referred to them by NHS Berkshire on 11th July 2012, and that they were advised in March 2013 by the NHS that I had been sacked. They informed me that I was under investigation and asked for details of my legal team. The data provided by GPhC legal team showed that I was referred to the GPhC before even there were any allegation against me. This was very puzzling hence my legal team raised concerns about the date of my referral to the GPhC via its lawyers, Blake and Lapthorn, and requested full clarification and timeline.
10. Blake and Lapthorn confirmed in writing on 14th of August 2013 that GPhC first received the referral from NHS Berkshire on 11 July 2012. The complaint related to allegations of misconduct regarding bullying and harassment and concerns surrounding the financial management and commissioning of provider contracts. The latter allegation was the subject of a counter fraud investigation. At this point, I was in fact still in full employment and there was no allegation against me. In the same letter Blake and Lapthorn confirmed that on 27th March 2013 NHS Berkshire advised the GPhC that I was dismissed from my post and on the 29th April NHS
Berkshire had confirmed to the GPhC that the allegation of fraud against me had been dropped. I
have to emphasise that the NHS never gave me any details of the so-called fraud allegations, and I was never contacted by any investigators looking into any fraud.
11. In addition to the suspect and premature GPhC referral timing, it was clear that NHS Berkshire had originally reported me to GPhC using the initial and made-up allegations of misconduct that had to be dropped, and replaced with “break-down of relationship” as the investigation progressed and became the ultimate reason for my sacking. The NHS, despite my multiple written requests including letters to Mr Hunt and Mr Stevens, never corrected the false referral or even the fundamental change of the allegations.
12. Thus, the GPhC investigation started on the basis of false and malicious information, irregular timing and failure to disclose to me that a referral had been made. The NHS allowed and encouraged the very witness who, for the reasons of unreliability, they had excluded from the PCT’s internal investigation, and who treasury lawyers had also excluded from the Employment Tribunal investigation, to repeat her untrue statements at my GPhC hearing.
13. In September 2014 I forwarded the apology letter which was specifically written for GPhC by the Department of Health (DH), confirming the flawed nature of processes leading to my sacking.
14. In November 2014 some members of management of the new Berkshire West CCG referred me to GPhC for sharing and tweeting about my story.
15. My legal firm provided the GPhC with clear evidence showing the above witness was unreliable, that the investigator coached the witness and that I was described as “too honest” to work for the NHS.
16. Shockingly, GPhC carried on with their so-called investigation, during which the DH refused to confirm the truth about my case, even though I provided evidence to both GPhC and DH.
17. I wrote 5 letters to DH with a number of them directly addressed to Mr. Hunt. These letters specifically included key and structured evidence from the case proving that I was being victimised as a whistleblower. But the DH replies to my letters refused to acknowledge the facts and the gross wrong-doing, and instead simply went around the subject, making general comments about how the new National Guardian would sort out any future whistleblower issues. The DH denied any prior knowledge that the key witness against me was unreliable and refused to confirm that she was unreliable on the purported basis that they had no evidence of this. This was wrong and it was despite the fact that DH itself originally provided me with documents which showed the witness had previously been deemed unreliable. On several occasions I formally and in writing requested a meeting with Mr. Hunt or a representative from DH who was prepared to
go through my experience and evidence so that the scale of the poor treatment of whistleblowers and their active victimisation could be understood and appropriate actions taken.  But my requests were denied.
18. My MP was very supportive and she wrote several letters asking either Mr. Hunt or a representative to look at the evidence that I provided, which she had reviewed and she asked Mr. Hunt to meet me. But her requests were equally ignored.
19. At the end my MP sent me a form and recommended that I refer the DH to Parliamentary and
Health Service Ombudsman.
20. At the GPhC, a hearing concluded was that the GPhC  was not able to uphold 16 of the 17 allegation against me as misconduct (several of them were dropped and some classified as not being an issue of misconduct). However, the GPhC concluded that there had been one act of misconduct worthy of a warning. The witness, the person who had previously been deemed unreliable, had alleged that I forced her to complain against another pharmacist. The GPhC’s hearing concluded that I did not force her to make the complaint bur rather she had made that complaint on her own account.  However the hearing concluded that she wanted her complaint to be dealt with unofficially but I encouraged her to do so officially. Not only did the GPhC not produce any evidence for its finding, it in fact stated that its witness’ lack of objectivity meant that her evidence should be treated with caution. Despite these facts the GPhC  still  simply based its biased report on the statement of the discredited witness. Even during the hearing there was more evidence of this witness’ unreliability to the point that GPHC’s lawyer advised that some of her comments should be disregarded because she was giving evidence on events to which she was not actually party. GPhC’s process was particularly perverse as my lawyer advised me that I was expected to accept the false allegation to show I had insight. I simply could not accept something of that was/is not true and I could not apologise for something that I had not done. Therefore, I received a GPhC warning to the effect that I must respect the wishes and view of colleagues and respect HR procedure and policies and any organisation in which I work as a pharmacist.
21. I lost a job which I loved and I was very good at because I was “too honest for the NHS” and I
would not endorse falsehood.
22. I was puzzled that the GPHC had claimed that it did/do not get involved in any HR matters BUT the baseless warning it issued, without any evidence and based on a witness acknowledged as wishes of colleagues and not respected HR procedure” .
23. For the hearing I had 12 credible and professional witnesses who demonstrated that none of the allegations against me had any merit but GPhC was surprisingly and disappointingly prepared to give some credence to the sole witness whose evidence had already been deemed unreliable.
24. The GPhC should have paid attention to the fact that some of the witness’s performance was under review (with full HR involvement) due to serious matters of circulating wrong medical protocols, and being under the influence of a pharmaceutical company. GPhC should have considered that all the allegations were out of revenge.
25. My legal team advised me strongly to appeal but I decided against it. I  believe patient safety is at risk in Berkshire West and I did not  want to delay making this protected disclosure publically hence the two articles in the Telegraph
26. As I was very disappointed by the way GPhC handled the vexatious referral,  I wrote to Mr.
Duncan Rudkin the CEO of the GPhC on 13 June 2016 raising my concerns that I had not been fairly treated. The GPhC replied on 6th July 2016, and indicated that it did not agree that I had been unfairly treated. GPhC advised that I could appeal against this complaint outcome.
27. Importantly, in its reply, the GPhC stated that I was referred to them in 2013 after I was sacked, when I have written confirmation from them that I was referred to them in 2012 beforeany allegation had been put to me.
28. I appealed against this decision and I specifically questioned the accuracy of the GPhC’s latest
claim about the date on which they received the referral against me.
29. I have received a response from GPhC on 4th August 2016 advising that the original letter which I received from Blake and Lapthorn that stated that I was referred to the 11th July 2012 appeared to be inaccurate.
30. I find this latest claim by the GPhC implausible. My lawyers and I had previously sought clarification about the date of referral on more than two occasions. It is unlikely that Blake and Lapthorn would have made such a fundamental error as reporting a grossly incorrect date of referral. In any case, if such an error was made, what else has been misreported within the GPhC’s process?
31. Furthermore the fact that GPhC were basing their investigation on the old and later changed/dropped misconduct allegations from 2012 also confirms that the referral timing was in fact in July 2012.

Final Remarks & Recommendations

32. I continue to have serious concerns about patient safety in Berkshire West CCGs as several of the concerns that I raised in 2012 have not been investigated or addressed. Therefore I am making this  public protected disclosure so that the clinicians and members of public are aware of my genuine concerns about real risks posed to patient safety and which must be investigated
and dealt with properly
33. Whistleblowers are still being victimised by the NHS, DH and the professional regulators whether by acts of commission or omission.
34. Genuine whistleblower, seeking  a better NHS,  are also black listed as my case has demonstrated.
35. Professional regulators need to be more effective and fair in the way they handle vexatious referrals against whistleblowers. The Freedom to Speak Up review recognised that whistleblower reprisal is a form of discrimination, and professional regulators should be combating such discrimination, not helping to reinforce it.
36. It is time that wrongdoers in the NHS are stopped and made accountable for their actions.
Without proper accountability the victimisation of genuine and caring whistleblowers will continue. Equally worrying, wrongdoers are & will do more wrong and patient are & will be at continuing risk.

2 thoughts on “Press release: Patient care remains at risk in Berkshire West while whistle blowers are victimised

  1. they will not protect wb now or ever the cons they only goal is the sell of of our nhs wb aint welcomed by them not matter whot they say

  2. Pingback: NHS whistleblowing articles in 2016: TWO years post Francis Review with NO change | sharmilachowdhury

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