By Fiona Bell
I met Sharmila back in 2014, another campaigner. Sharmila emailed me. She was fighting for justice for herself and for other whistleblowers, desperate for a meeting with Jeremy Hunt. Many had been campaigning for such a meeting for a long time.It was a case of how do we get Mr. Hunt’s attention. I had an idea, so I advised, write him an email and copy in the press ( I forwarded her my treasured contact list of journalists ).My advice was specific, email all copy in my journo’s contact list but do not blind copy. I knew it would go one way or the other and it could cause a bit of a stir down at DH Press office. Within 24 hours we had an offer of a meeting with Jeremy Hunt along with Simon Stevens CEO of NHS England.Here’s the link to the TV coverage, the day I met Sharmila. A lovely warm person, struggling to survive, regular cancer treatment meant, she had to wear a wig. A person passing Sharmila in the street would never guess this is a lady fighting cancerAlong with 5 other whistleblowers, we entered Whitehall for our meeting with Jeremy Hunt.
He listened along with Simon Stevens. From that meeting we got Freedom to Speak up, FTSU. Despite the publication of FTSU, there’s little that has changed. Our greatest fear was that after FTSU, NHS staff would think it safe to speak up and we would get a new batch of whistleblowers. That has happened, just take a look at Twitter – the Whistleblowing community has grown in both public & private sector. Our job is not finished.So many whistleblowers are still gagged, still fighting and simply left on the bones of their backsides.Sharmila has never stopped fighting for others and for herself. Her NHS case was in my opinion unsatisfactory in regard to settlement, so much so the legal team that represented her are now finally being legally challenged. It’s our belief they did not settle in the best interests of their client.In addition to NHS whistleblowing a warning re the private sector. In April 2016 Sharmila was offered a post at HCA . It seemed like a blessing, a chance to work again. It’s believed HCA would have been aware of Sharmila’s NHS whistleblowing and her ongoing fight with cancer. In 2017 that blessing turned into a nightmare. Sharmila once again found herself speaking up.Speaking up in the private sector is just as tricky as speaking up in the NHS, Sharmila is facing a David and Goliath moment in whistleblowing, HCA has tooled themselves up with 3 legal firms for one whistleblower, Sharmila is fighting on all corners. From an outsider looking in, it looks like HCA have commissioned legalised bullying of a whistleblower.An organisation that claims “From the moment you choose one of our award-winning facilities, we’re here by your side. You can depend on us for round-the-clock care and the skills and compassion”From the outside, in my opinion, it doesn’t look like there is much compassion or support for a whistleblower with a life-threatening illness.The case overview can be found here https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/nhs-whistleblower/So as a friend of many whistleblowers, bereaved families and fellow campaigners, I ask all of you to stop and think, your fighting for you’re life, you’re forced to fight for justice, to keep a roof over your head, what would you do in her shoes?All we have is a chance via Crowd Justice, HCA appears to be throwing the book at Sharmila. Unfortunately, the fight ahead will be costly. So if you have a spare pound please chip in. I look at things in a simplistic way – we need 40,000 one pound coins, so if you all share and tweet the crowdfunding page. Any journalists please share around your offices, publicity is welcome but more than anything we need donations. £40,000 one pound coins …..So many obstacles ahead, they can be overcome with help. Sat in the Embankment cafe a few years ago, waiting for a quietly rushed meeting with one of Sir Robert Francis’s FTSU team, we were discussing, had the stress of whistleblowing contributed to the Cancer, Sharmila said to me, “I believe it has. Though treatments are tough, I’m not afraid of death. I can face that. I would just like to die in my own home “