Sligo native David Phelan was a senior manager with the NHS until he uncovered alleged fraud and became a whistleblower. Now the police are investigating his claims. He speaks to Jessica Farry
David Phelan. Pic: Carl Brennan
A Sligo man whose whistle-blowing has led to the UK police opening an investigation into a hospital says he now feels vindicated, after he used tech skills he learned at IT Sligo to expose alleged fraud relating to waiting lists.
David Phelan, a Carraroe native, was a senior manager with the NHS in England for 15 years, working in Kettering General Hospital.
In 2015, he felt compelled to whistleblow after he noticed patients were removed from waiting lists of Kettering General Hospital which he alleges was done to improve the hospital’s waiting list figures.
The Northamptonshire police are now investigating the alleged fraud.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the investigation into the hospital in a letter to Labour’s health spokesman, Jonathan Ashworth.
The Health Secretary said: “I note t hat Northamptonshire Police have begun an investigation into allegations of False and Misleading Information Offences at Kettering General Hospital. As Secretary of State for Health and Social Care I have made it clear that there is no place in the NHS or Government for anything other than the highest levels of honesty and integrity and I will tolerate nothing other than that.”
Simon Weldon, now Chief Executive Officer at Kettering General Hospital, was not in that role at the time of the alleged fraud, but he has made contact with Mr. Phelan ‘out of the blue’ to inform him that they would assist the police with the inquiries.
He said: “As you know, I have confirmed on behalf of the Trust that we are happy to assist the police with their enquiries and in order to avoid any possible prejudice to their investigation, I will not at this stage provide detailed responses or commentary to third parties including yourself, despite your close interest in this matter.”
It’s five years since David whistleblew, which resulted in him losing his job early in 2016.
“Regardless of whether they find them innocent or guilty, the fact that the police are now going to investigate, I feel vindicated in that my allegations are being taken that seriously,” he told The Sligo Champion.
Although not working in tech in the hospital, the former Summerhill College student was able to use the skills he learned at IT Sligo to prove his suspicions that something untoward was going on with the hospital waiting lists.
At IT Sligo, David studied Information Systems, which included a module on database technologies.
“It was through having those skills that I was able to crack this crime,” he said.
“That’s how I proved it. I wasn’t employed in tech. I was doing a senior management job which didn’t involve working as a technologist.
“When the figures started looking strange to me, I just thought it didn’t look right so I managed to get access to the computer code used to print the waiting list, and it was from that then that I as able to see that filters were put on the database to remove six categories of patients from the waiting list.”
David alleges that this was done to give the impression that the hospital’s waiting list figures were better than they were, meaning they were closer to their performance targets once external regulators went looking at these numbers.
It hasn’t been an easy time for David. He is back in Sligo living in the back of his Ford Transit van for the time being.
Like many whistleblowers, he was initially frozen out by many colleagues when he made the allegations. And now, he can’t get a job in the NHS despite his experience.
“The thing about the NHS is there’s all these posters up on the wall saying that it’s your duty as an employee if you spot something, you’re not being a good employee if you don’t flag it up.
“And if you do, you get your head cut off. As soon as you say something, the attitude towards you changes, they try to find fault in your work. They try and find reasons to get you out the door when you whistleblow.
“I was ostracised by some of my colleagues, particularly those who were involved because they didn’t want their part being known.
Of course they didn’t want to make life easy for me
“It was difficult. I’ve applied for hundreds of jobs in the NHS since my whistleblowing, I’m blacklisted.”
David wasn’t the only one to lift the lid on the alleged fraud at the hospital, as two other whistleblowers later came forward with the same allegations as David.
That, he feels, helped the case massively.
“It went from being the mad Irish man, as they tried to portray me, the lone wolf , (making the claims) to others and there could be more.
“Proving the veracity of what I’m saying, if it’s one bloke on his own you might say it’s 50/50 but if it’s two and three saying the exact same thing and they all say the same thing, it adds a huge amount of credibility to what they say.”
The BBC reported last week that over 100 people were ‘harmed’ after being left on waiting lists at the hospital for over one year.
It is for these reasons now that David and a number of other people now wish to set up a support group in Kettering for people who have been affected by this.
“I’m setting up a support group in Kettering to keep it in the public domain. They’re going to put flyers through homes in Kettering, and get people to share stories if they have had adverse outcomes from the hospital.”
But that’s not all. He is also hoping to get the help of MEP Ming Flanagan to set up a group for whistleblowers in the Republic of Ireland, including Maurice McCabe, Vicky Phelan and the daughters of James O’Reilly who was recently convicted of abusing his seven daughters.
David explained: “I want to get all parties involved, I will personally speak to every single TD and try and speak to Maurice McCabe, and Vicky Phelan and those seven traveller ladies.
“I want to try and use this to get an organisation in place so that people who are isolated and on their own will have someone to support them, to listen to them, to signpost them to the relevant authorities,” he said.
He has been through the mill after he bravely decided to make these allegations against the hospital.
“You need a certain personality type, five years on to still be standing. I’m very resilient, some might say I’m pushy but if I wasn’t knocking on doors, being pushy, being resilient, I wouldn’t be here today.”
And despite everything he has happened, including losing his job and now being homeless, he has no regrets whatsoever about blowing the whistle.
“Even though I am sleeping in the back of my Ford Transit van but it will be fine because the truth will come out.
“If you asked me do I regret it I would say unequivocally ‘no’.
“Because of my actions and the other people who whistleblow, we have saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives.
“That’s a price worth paying,” he added.
he police forces’ economic crimes unit is understood to be leading the investigation into the claims of David Phelan and the other whistleblowers involved.
For now, all David can do is wait and see what happens as it is expected to take some time for the investigation to be completed.
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