Assange had spent over six years holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London avoiding such extradition, as U.S. authorities have long sought to prosecute him for his role in WikiLeaks obtaining and releasing classified military information in 2010.
Although the ethics and legality of WikiLeaks’ operations and its motives are contested, the organization has through the years revealed undeniably newsworthy information that authorities sought to keep from the public. These are some of the biggest stories that came from WikiLeaks.
The U.S. Military Killed Civilians And A Reuters Cameraman In Iraq
In 2010, a video shot on board an American helicopter operating in Iraq documented the U.S. killing a 22-year-old Reuters cameraman and his driver in an air attack in Baghdad. WikiLeaks released the footage of the strike, which killed at least a dozen people, in a 38-minute video called “Collateral Murder.” It shows the graphic killings along with audio of the aircrew laughing and referring to those killed as “dead bastards.” The U.S. military initially claimed the Reuters crew was killed in a firefight with insurgents, an explanation that the video contradicted.
The video and more than 700,000 leaked documents sparked a major scandal and outcry from human rights groups. It also led to the arrest of Chelsea Manning, a U.S. intelligence officer who had illegally downloaded the documents from a military base before providing the information to WikiLeaks.
Corruption, Killings And Abuse In Iraq And Afghanistan
After WikiLeaks released the “Collateral Murder” video, it continued with other document dumps from the Manning files. The documents revealed extensive corruption and human rights abuses in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as an apparent lack of action from U.S. officials to investigate or prevent such abuses. Some of the files detailedthat U.S. forces knew of Iraqi police abuse, including torture and rape, but often did nothing to punish those acts. Another release concerned U.S. Marines killing or woundingdozens of unarmed civilians near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, while they fled from an attack.
The U.S. Spied On Its Allies And Tapped Foreign Government Phone Calls
A 2015 release revealed the U.S. had been spying on a number of allies, using the National Security Agency to intercept the phone calls of top foreign officials, businesses and leaders. The revelations caused an international political uproar, forcing President Barack Obama to issue apologies to Germany, France, Brazil and Japan ― all of which were targeted in the spying. In the case of Germany, WikiLeaks alleged the files showed the NSA had tapped the German chancellery going backdecades.
Intelligence Reports On Guantanamo Bay Prisoners
Hundreds of reports on operations and inmates at Guantanamo Bay gave insight into operations at the secretive U.S. detention camp and the status of its prisoners. The 2011 release revealed that dozens of the inmates struggled with depression and mental illness, that the United States was obtaining information through torture, and that some prisoners were detained on slim evidence or because of mistaken identity. The files also showed that 172 of the prisoners there had been deemed high-risk prisoners who would pose a threat to the U.S. if released.
Australia’s Internet Blacklist
In one of its early leaks from 2009, WikiLeaks published a list of nearly 2,400 web pages that the Australian government was allegedly planning to permanently block access to in the country. The list, which the Australian government disputed, included sites that involved child pornography and extreme violence ― but also included several other pages that included YouTube videos, WikiLeaks entries and poker sites. The release intensified a public debate over internet censorship, while child rights advocates condemned WikiLeaks for publicizing the names of sites that abuse children.
Kenya’s Extrajudicial Killings
WikiLeaks published a suppressed report from Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights in 2008 that contained allegations of extrajudicial police killings in the country. The publication received widespread support from human rights groups, and Amnesty International gave WikiLeaksa media award in 2009 as a result.
The CIA Targeted Smartphones And Computers
Not to be confused with Edward Snowden’s leak of documents detailing NSA surveillance measures, WikiLeaks released its own files in 2017 purporting to show the CIA’s extensive hacking capabilities. The files alleged the CIA can target individual computers and smartphones with malware that can allow the agency to view the contents of a device. In one especially creepy document, the CIA detailed how it could attack a Samsung smart television so that the device appeared to be in off mode when it was, in fact, turned on and recording conversations around it.
The Inner Workings Of Sony Pictures
A cyber attack exposed thousands of internal documents and emails from Sony Pictures in 2014 as part of a bizarre incident U.S. officials believed was linked to North Korea taking offense at a Seth Rogen comedy that mocked its leader Kim Jong Un. Although WikiLeaks wasn’t connected to the initial release of the documents, the site later collected and released all of the hacked files in a searchable database that gave an in-depth look at conversations between Hollywood’s top executives.
The Hillary Clinton Emails
During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta, which Russian hackers had stolen from his Gmail account. The emails were an embarrassing look into Clinton’s private circle and offered her critics an array of easy targets to attack her on, including an email that showed that CNN contributor and later Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile had leaked a questionfrom a town hall-style Democratic primary debate to Clinton in advance.
The WikiLeaks emails damaged Clinton and her campaign, and the question of who knew about the documents ahead of their release and how the leak relates to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election was reportedly a major focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller questioned many associates of political consultant Roger Stone, who worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign, to determine whether Stone or his associates were conduits between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign.
Lancaster Guardian 03 April 2019 By GAYLE ROUNCIVELL
A radiographer who raised concerns about malpractice in the breast screening unit at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary this week won the first step in a landmark employment tribunal case after being subjected to years of bullying.
Sue Allison’s case was heard in Manchester on Tuesday to determine whether a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) she was asked to sign was legally binding.
And the judge ruled in the 57-year-old’s favour, meaning she can now proceed to a full tribunal next year.
Mrs Allison has worked at the unit, which treats patients across north Lancashire and south Cumbria, since 2006, and first raised concerns about bad practice in 2012.
She said although the full extent of the damage caused was unknown, it was proven in 2015 that two people died as a result of their cancer not being diagnosed.
But she says internal investigations were “whitewashed and covered up”.
She was later asked by Morecambe Bay Hospitals NHS Trust (UHMBT) to sign an NDA which she believes wasn’t legal.
“I was placed in a position with not a great deal of choice but to sign an agreement to silence me,” she said.
“Unfortunately the emphasis is on the protection of reputations of senior consultants, managers and directors, while the patients ultimately suffer as a result.”
Mrs Allison, a qualified radiographer for 34 years, says that as a result of her whistleblowing, she was ostracised and subjected to extensive bullying, which eventually caused her to file formal complaints against the trust.
She moved to work at Furness General Hospital in December 2014, after she claimed the bullying became so much that she was off work with stress,
“I just couldn’t stay in the department,” she said. “I felt I was being pushed towards the door but I didn’t want to give up on my career.”
Mrs Allison, who lives in Lupton, near Kirkby Lonsdale, said she had been working towards becoming a consultant radiographer at the time.
“I stuck with it for years but it got worse,” she said. “It’s been very unpleasant.
“My career has been completely destroyed. I was bullied and a smear campaign was started, it was horrible.
“I have tried to keep going and not let them get me down but it’s hard.”
Mrs Allison says that in 2015, she was pressured into signing an NDA without legal advice, preventing her from publicly airing her concerns or bringing future claims against the trust.
She has since returned to the RLI, but only works 12 hours a week which she said has been “very financially detrimental”.
She is currently on sick leave having undergone a hip replacement, but accepts she will not work in the NHS again, after finding out last year that she was essentially blacklisted.
Tuesday’s hearing challenged the NDA Mrs Allison was asked to sign, and was a test case which could have major implications for the future of gagging orders.
In 2013, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that he would ban the gagging of NHS staff in compromise agreements.
But a recent Freedom of Information request uncovered the widespread use of such agreements in the health service to silence staff who raise concerns about harassment and bullying.
“The NHS is a public service; there shouldn’t be anything that management needs to hide from the people who fund and use their service,” Mrs Allison said.
“There’s no reason to hide and cover up. They are supposed to be transparent and learn from mistakes.
“I just think it’s very sad for the patients and it’s also very sad for me. I loved my job but I will never do it again.
“My reputation is absolutely destroyed because people have made sure that everyone in the breast screening service thinks badly of me. It shows a culture where whistleblowers are seen as bad people, when in actual fact I cannot see anything more that shows integrity than standing up for other people.”
The tribunal result means Mrs Allison can now rely on evidence of what happened to her before the NDA was signed in any future hearing.
“They would be looking back at everything and taking it all into account,” she said.
“I am very pleased. This is a really important move, and it’s something that doesn’t happen with whistleblowers very often.
“I have to thank my barrister and solicitor, who were excellent. I couldn’t have done any of this without them.
“I have also had a lot of online support which I am grateful for.
“It’s now a case of onwards and upwards. It’s very nice to have won the first hurdle because it gives people faith in the justice system and helps them to realise that I am not making it up.
“The judge was very clear that she believed what I had told her.
“I am happy that this gives other people the chance to come forward and it also serves as a warning to trusts who may have been getting complacent that they could brush things under the carpet.
“They need to learn to be transparent because they should be answering to the public.”
Jahad Rahman, the solicitor acting for Mrs Allison, said: “This case is of considerable public interest as it challenges the lawfulness of gagging clauses in NHS settlement agreements.
“Gagging clauses should not be used to silence NHS workers that speak out about patient safety and care. Mrs Allison exposed matters of crucial public concern such as the failure to diagnose breast cancer.”
Last year we also reported on surgeon Peter Duffy, another RLI whistleblower who was forced out of his job after raising concerns and is now practicing on the Isle of Man.
UHMBT medical director David Walker said: “We are disappointed that the employment tribunal has decided that the case regarding the trust’s settlement agreement with Sue Allison should now go to the employment tribunal stage – the next step will be a telephone hearing, followed by a full hearing.
“The trust considers that the confidentiality clauses included in that agreement were in accordance with the appropriate guidance on such clauses. We will study the judgement in detail, and decide what our next steps could be.
“Mrs Allison confirmed in her witness evidence that the agreement she signed did not prevent her from raising any whistleblowing complaints or concerns about patient safety or care.
“I would like to register my personal thanks to Mrs Allison, as I would for any of our colleagues who raise concerns about standards of care in our trust – it is through their concerns that we can continue to improve and learn lessons.
“All the patient safety concerns raised by Mrs Allison were thoroughly investigated at the time with substantial input from the Care Quality Commission, NHS Improvement (Monitor at that time) and Public Health England. We are not aware of any concerns about the current service to our patients.
“Mrs Allison remains an important member of the trust and we recognise that this must have been a difficult and, at times, emotionally draining process for her – we will fully support her return to work.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to reassure the public that our breast screening service is safe and effective, but of course no screening programme can possibly detect every case of cancer. We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure it is the best it can be. We would encourage anyone invited for screening who has any concerns to contact the breast screening unit.
“It is, of course, a matter of deep regret that any colleague would feel unable to resolve matters with the Trust and despite our best efforts to resolve this case.
“The safety and care of our patients is our absolute priority. We strongly encourage staff to come forward if they think patients may be in any way at risk, so we can investigate and learn from any mistakes.
“This is a really important part of our culture as an organisation – and is evidenced by the fact that we were one of the first trusts to appoint a full-time Freedom to Speak Up Guardian – so that if anyone has any concerns they do not feel they can raise with their manger, there is someone they can speak to who will help to resolve the issue.
“We respect the confidentiality of all our employees and we continue to offer to support and work with Mrs Allison to try to resolve her concerns through the internal processes, which also are ongoing.”
Mrs Allison has set up a crowdfunding page to help pay the legal costs her case will incur.
The page, which can be found here, has so far raised more than £12,500.
NHS England aimed to stop hospital trust opposing local privatisation of cancer scans
NHS heads threatened to sue one of England’s most admired hospitals for libel, for raising concerns that privatising a key element of cancer treatment would endanger patients’ health.
In an extraordinary move NHS England tried to stop Oxford University hospitals (OUH) NHS trust opposing its controversial decision to let a private firm take charge of cancer scanning.
Lawyers for NHS England said the trust’s concerns, which were shared by doctors, MPs of all parties and cancer patients, amounted to defamation. The view was in a legal letter the NHS sent to OUH, which was seen by the Guardian.
NHS England’s solicitors, DAC Beachcroft, issued the warning last August. It came when relations between the body that runs England’s health service and the Oxford trust had become very strained over the former decision to take the contract for PET-CT scanning services away from OUH and hand it to InHealth.
That triggered a huge outcry. The weight of criticism forced NHS England into a U-turn last week and the two PET-CT scanners are now to stay in OUH’s Churchill hospital rather than be moved to a new facility. However, InHealth is still being given the contract to provide the service.
Anneliese Dodds, the Labour MP for Oxford East, whose constituency includes the Churchill, condemned NHS England’s threat to sue OUH, calling it scandalous. She had received the letter from an OUH whistleblower.
She said: “I am appalled that NHS England sought to prevent clinicians from offering an informed opinion about privatising Oxford’s PET-CT scan service.”
Dodds said it was absolutely unacceptable “that experts, who work directly in the provision of care for cancer patients, feel constrained from speaking out because of NHSe’s actions”.
Senior figures at OUH claim the veiled threat was part of a pattern of “bullying and intimidation” that NHS England used towards it to try to cajole it into keeping quiet over the PET-CT deal.
The Guardian can also reveal that OUH’s chief executive, Bruno Holthof, was left shaken after the NHS England chairman at the time, Sir Malcolm Grant, rang him to warn the trust not to mount a legal challenge to the switch to a contract with InHealth, despite the Churchill’s international reputation for providing cancer care.
Senior figures at OUH were left stunned at the heavy handed tactics when Holthof told them recently about his call with Grant.
OUH had planned to mount a legal challenge to InHealth winning the contract, but decided against doing so after the conversation.
DAC Beachcroft wrote to Gowling WLG, the trust’s lawyers, on 14 August, referencing OUH’s view that “NHS England will be aware that [because it had decided to award InHealth the contract], it has put patient safety at risk, and severely compromised the provision of cancer care and research in the health system, in both the short and long term”.
DAC Beachcroft responded to that view, saying: “NHS England does not accept that the result of this procurement puts patient safety at risk or compromises the provision of cancer care and research in the health system. We are bound to put you on notice that any statement in those or similar terms would be defamatory if repeated to any third party.”
This is thought to be the first time NHS bosses have threatened a trust with the law of libel.
Disclosure of NHS England’s behaviour towards OUH comes as Oxfordshire county council’s health oversight and scrutiny committee prepares to meet on Thursday to investigate how and why InHealth came to be awarded the contract.
NHS England defended its tactics. “Taxpayers would rightly take a dim view of an NHS hospital diverting funding on to lawyers’ fees for legal action against another part of the NHS, and Oxford University hospitals were right not to attempt to do so,” said a spokesperson.
Adrian Harris, professor of medical oncology at the University of Oxford, warned that cancer patients having a PET-CT scan in future, in either Swindon or Milton Keynes, in mobile units InHealth was setting up there as part of its new contract, would have poorer quality scans than those offered at the Churchill hospital.
“Patients … will have a two-tier system, one in hospital car parks with poor access machines – the Oxford patients [will get better scans] at the Churchill. The new scanners at Oxford are 10 times more sensitive than mobile ones,” Harris said in a letter to local MPs.
Sue Allison, 57, reported a string of missed cancer diagnosesCREDIT: GUZELIAN LTD
A radiographer who blew the whistle on NHS malpractice is to challenge the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) she was asked to sign, in a hearing which could have major implications for the future of gagging orders.
In 2012, Sue Allison, 57, reported a string of missed cancer diagnoses and wider concerns about standards of care in a breast screening unit at Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.
After raising concerns with a colleague, the pair claimed they were ostracised and subjected to extensive bullying, eventually leading them to file formal grievance complaints against the trust.
But in 2015, Mrs Allison claims she was pressured into signing two non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) without legal advice, preventing her from publicly airing her concerns or bringing future claims against the trust.
At a hearing at Manchester Employment Tribunal on April 2, her lawyer will now argue it was unlawful to ask her to sign an agreement without legal representation, and will press for it to be revoked.
Mrs Allison claims she did not fully understand what she was agreeing to, arguing she was “pretty much conned into signing” the NDAs.
She told The Telegraph “When you’re a whistleblower and they’ve been trying to squash you for a couple of years, you find yourself in a very lonely place where you don’t have anyone to help or advise you.
“I’m not stupid, but I’m not a legally aware person having not dealt with the law in my life prior to all this”.
In 2013, the former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that he would ban the gagging of NHS staff in compromise agreements.
It adds to growing levels of scrutiny being applied to the use of NDAs across a number of industries in the wake of The Telegraph’s reporting on Philip Green who is accused of sexually harassing members of staff, accusations that he has denied.
Stephen Kerr MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Whistleblowing, said: “The ongoing flouting of the ban on the use of NDAs in the NHS is unacceptable.
“I have yet to see an appropriately-used NDA in whistleblowing cases and remain convinced that they have no place in our NHS.”
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that he would ban the gagging of NHS staff in 2013CREDIT: FORMER HEALTH SECRETARY JEREMY HUNT ANNOUNCED THAT HE WOULD BAN THE GAGGING OF NHS STAFF IN 2013
Mrs Allison’s MP and former Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, added: “Sue has made a considerable personal sacrifice by putting her head above the parapet to call out poor and dangerous standards of care.
“But she reports that she’s been rewarded by having her career destroyed.”
“If whistleblowers are to be encouraged, they need some form of protection and reassurance that they will face no recriminations or professional backlash, whilst those allegedly guilty of the mistakes suffer no similar consequences or repercussions from their actions”.
Mrs Allison believes she has been blacklisted in the NHS and says she has been asked about being a whistleblower in a number of subsequent job applications she’s made in places as far away as Kingston.
She worked at the same NHS Trust as the award-winning surgeon Peter Duffy, another high-profile whistleblower who was forced out of his job after raising concerns and is now practicing on the Isle of Man.
The Trust has faced a number of whistleblowing complaints in recent years including a maternity crisis at Furness General where a number of deaths emerged due to poor care standards.
Mrs Allison’s employment lawyer Jahad Rahman said the case could have wide implications for attempts to silence not just whistleblowers, but also victims of crime or abuse.
“Hopefully this case will significantly contribute to the debate about whether or not it’s right to silence individuals raising concerns about wrongdoing and misconduct in the workplace…the outcome is likely to give them confidence to speak out,” he said.
“We need people to come forward or else we are exposing the public to danger.
“This case goes beyond the remit of whistleblowers, in fact. NDAs should never be used to cover up criminal activity at work, as we’ve seen them being employed for cases of discrimination and sexual harassment at work. Sexual assault is a criminal offence”.
The Whistleblowing charity Protect is also pushing for clearer legislation surrounding NDAs, which would allow subjects to still make protected disclosures where public safety was an issue.
Andrew Pepper-Parsons, at the charity said: “The law is clear that public interest issues such as concerns involving patient safety cannot be part of an NDA, and a whistleblower would be able raise those concerns with someone like the CQC without fear of an employer pursuing the whistleblower for breaching the NDA.
“But the bullying or victimisation of a whistleblower, even if it shows a toxic environment in a workplace, is a grey area and may well be covered by the confidentiality agreement if it lacks a wider public interest point.”
Morecambe Bay Trust said all the concerns raised by Mrs Allison had already been fully investigated.
“As with every such investigation, opportunities for the Trust to improve its practice were identified and action was taken to address this,” said Medical Director David Walker.
“The Trust does not use ‘gagging clauses’ that prevent employees or ex-employees speaking out about patient safety and patient care.”
However Mrs Allison said the case has wrecked her career.
“To push out highly-qualified people who are really dedicated to their jobs at a time of such acute short-staffing is really bad practice on the part of NHS management,” she said. “I mean, I’ll never go back there now – I’m finished.”
In June 2017, we launched a 12-month trial of our case review process, a key recommendation from the Francis Freedom to Speak Up review. Case reviews listen hard to the experience of workers and look at the speaking up culture in NHS trusts, including how individuals’ cases have been handled.
In association with
Case reviews call out areas for improvement and also commend good practice. We publish reports and, working collaboratively with trusts and regulators, ensure the recommendations are implemented.
Scope for improvement
We have highlighted recurring areas for improvement, finding that the way the guardian role has been implemented does not always meet the needs of workers. Additionally, trusts are not routinely following national policy and guidance. Conflicts of interest are widespread.
For example, in one organisation a worker alleged a sexual assault, then discovered that the investigating officer was the partner of the alleged assailant. In the same trust, a manager was asked to investigate their own conduct. Elsewhere only one of 9,000 members of staff had signed the declaration of interests register.
We have also made recommendations about the excessive use of grievances and counter grievances, the use of settlement agreements, bullying cultures and the Fit and Proper Person Review.
Since we began the case reviews pilot we have completed 24 case reviews at five NHS trusts. The reports have included 87 recommendations made to trusts, Department of Health and Social Care, Care Quality Commission, and a law firm. By carrying out a “gap analysis”, guardians in trusts throughout England have been able to review their own practices, processes and policies and use the learning to make improvements.
Following the pilot, we commissioned an independent evaluation and sought feedback from our advisory groups and other stakeholders. We’re currently exploring options to refine our case review process to reflect that feedback. We will continue to carry out case reviews in the meantime – as we have since the pilot ended in June – and expect to be working to our new model in the summer.
Angela Hillery, chief executive of Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust, said: “Case review recommendations have helped us to address anything that is getting in the way of allowing people to speak up and affect change.
“They have helped us shape our organisation so that it is more willing to listen and more open to learning. It is vital to the culture of the trust that all workers are actively encouraged and empowered to speak up.
“I believe there are lessons that all organisations across the health sector can garner from the case review reports published by the National Guardian, and I would encourage them to use them to help identify how they can improve.”
A DOCTOR who claims she was bullied out of her job for whistleblowing has spoken of her despair that she “will never work again” in NHSScotland, despite winning her unfair dismissal case.
Dr Sheena Pinion, 60, said she believes she has been “blacklisted” since taking NHS Fife to an employment tribunal and has now abandoned hopes of returning to frontline hospital care.
Dr Pinion, who specialises in gynaecological cancers, said she wanted to speak out about her own experience ahead of a preliminary report by QC John Sturrock into claims of a “bullying culture” at NHS Highland, which is expected in mid-February.
Dr Pinion said: “I’ve been watching what’s happening in NHS Highland with great interest. The problem is no one dares speak out because what happens is they then get attacked more.”
She added: “I’m not the only one this has happened to. They keep you isolated. You’re not allowed to contact anyone. People were told not to contact me. My whole life was destroyed.
“I was a single female with no children, work was my whole life. And they took all that away from me. And that’s happening to people all over. I just hope the report into NHS Highland isn’t a whitewash – that’s my fear.
“I’m basically at the end of the road with everything and I know I can never work again. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Dr Pinion, who lives in Kirkcaldy, qualified in Edinburgh in 1981 and began working as a senior consultant in NHS Fife in 1994.
For the first 10 years it was a “great place to work”, but she believes she became a target for senior managers after voicing concerns about patient safety following a reorganisation of surgical services.
In 2004, she was signed off sick with stress amid an investigation into claims – eventually quashed as false – that she was a bully.
Shortly afterwards, she put in an official complaint after her then line manager refused to engage with her to draw up a job plan, which was necessary for her to renew her contract, return from sick leave and receive back pay.
When she lodged an official complaint, she says she became the victim of a witch-hunt by senior directors who “made my life absolute hell”.
In 2005, she was forced out on gardening leave pending an investigation into allegations that she was putting patients at risk, but again these claims were dropped and a disciplinary panel also found that her manager had “mishandled” her return from sick leave.
Dr Pinion eventually returned to work at NHS Fife in June 2006, but her ordeal was to begin again in 2008 when a colleague – known only as Dr X – revealed that he had contracted a blood-borne virus, later found to be HIV.
NHS Fife subsequently recalled a number of patients Dr X had operated on to test them for the infection. Although the results were negative, Dr X was told to stop carrying out procedures which could put patients at risk of exposure.
In 2010, Dr Pinion made a formal ‘protected disclosure’ to NHS Fife that Dr X was still carrying out operations that potentially endangered patients to the virus. She said this was leaked to Dr X within 24 hours.
“The attacks started immediately,” she said. “Disciplinary actions were raised against me for absolutely anything. Dr X even kept a diary on me, and anytime he heard anyone say anything about me he would escalate it into a disciplinary procedure. Even the most trivial things.”
In January 2012, she also raised concerns over the safety implications of moving obstetrics and gynaecology to the new wing of the Victoria Hospital, without a colposcopy service – a diagnostic procedure to check the cervix for cancer. On January 20, she was suspended “without warning”.
She was just 53, but it was the last time she would work in the NHS.
The reasons for her suspension included claims she had spoken over a colleague during a video conference and breached the dress code by wearing a white coat for clinical care, as well as fresh allegations that she herself was a bully.
The internal probe and Dr Pinion’s subsequent appeal against its findings dragged on for four years, during when time she continued to be paid her full salary – amounting to a total of more than £500,000. In December 2015, she was dismissed.
A subsequent employment tribunal eventually ruled in 2017 that claims of “gross misconduct” were unfounded and that NHS Fife had unfairly dismissed her. NHS Fife spent £160,000 fighting the case.
However, while the tribunal recognised that she was a whistleblower, both in relation to the colposcopy service and Dr X, it rejected her claim that she had been sacked directly because of her whistleblowing.
The potential windfall for claimants who can prove a link between whistleblowing and unfair dismissal is uncapped, but for unfair dismissal alone the maximum is £90,000 before tax.
Dr Pinion received damages of £65,000, but was liable for well over £100,000 in legal fees: she was not covered by insurance, and successful claimants in employment tribunals are not entitled to claim for their legal costs.
As a result, she said she could not afford to appeal the findings in relation to whistleblowing.
Instead, she focused on returning to work – but more than 18 months on has given up.
Doctors require regular revalidation by the General Medical Council. To be revalidated, they have to have a ‘responsible officer’ to vouch for them and provide an appraisal, which means they also need to be employed.
Official guidance states that doctors should rarely be suspended more than four weeks, but that they should at least be provided with a mentor and allowed to keep up-to-date through meetings and training.
Dr Pinion said this did not happen.
“From the time I was suspended in 2012, I was not allowed onto hospital premises, I was not allowed to speak to anyone, I was not allowed to go to meetings, I was not allowed to do anything except online learning, which I did on my own.
“As soon as I was dismissed in 2015, I had no responsible officer to tell the GMC whether I was fit to revalidate or not.
“I came under a new system where basically I would have to do everything on my own: find a job, do the job, pay for an appraisal, pay to submit it to the GMC for revalidation.
“With an employment tribunal looming amid claims that I was basically a ‘nasty, horrible person’, who in their right minds would have given me a job?”
After winning her unfair dismissal case, Dr Pinion set her sights on revalidating by offering to work for free in colposcopy in another Scottish health board, outside of Fife. However, she said the health board’s HR team “dragged out” the process.
She said: “They delayed and delayed and made things really difficult. They were going to do all sorts of things like test me for blood-borne viruses, even though all I wanted to do was sit in on a clinic – not even touch a patient.
“The hoops I was having to go through with their HR was unbelievable. The professor who was trying to organise it for me couldn’t believe it.”
Dr Pinion said she believes her chances were wrecked in part because Dr X has “ influential friends”, including within Scottish Governmentranks, and because NHS HR departments “collude”.
Eventually, Dr Pinion paid to go to Northern Ireland instead where she did colposcopy for free and was finally revalidated by the GMC in March 2018.
Then, out of the blue, NHS Fife advertised vacancies within obstetrics and gynaecology – and Dr Pinion decided to apply. She said she wanted to “just to prove they’ve blacklisted me”.
She heard nothing and later discovered the appointments had been filled.
“They refused to tell me who was on the panel, but said I hadn’t been shortlisted because I didn’t have a licence to practise and I hadn’t worked since 2012.
“I have it in writing from the GMC that not having a licence to practise is not a valid reason not to appoint or shortlist someone, because you need to work to keep your licence.
“I watched that BBC documentary [on the Liverpool Women’s Hospital’s consultant shortage] recently and I spent the night awake, in tears, because if I had been allowed to keep up to date I could have gone there.
“I have an employment tribunal saying I have been wrongly kept from working since 2012. But because of what Fife have done to me I can’t apply for a job like that.”
A spokesman for the health board said: “NHS Fife does not comment on members of staff – past or present.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said it did not have exact figures for how many doctors in Scotland are currently suspended.
Former Health Secretary Shona Robison announced in 2017 that an Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO) would be appointed to hold health boards to account, especially where a whistleblower claims to have been unfairly treated.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Health boards have an obligation to make sure the whistleblower is protected throughout the process and does not suffer any harm as a result of speaking up.
“We will announce the timetable for the legislation to establish the INWO in the coming weeks.”
Sir Robert Francis QC warned that victimisation of whistleblowers had led to patient deaths in the Mid-Staffs hospital scandal
IS there something rotten at the core of the NHS? The spectre of bullying was thrust into the spotlight in September when a group of clinicians from NHS Highland took the highly unusual step of writing to the Herald to complain of a “culture of fear and intimidation” emanating from the “very top” of the organisation.
A “practice of suppressing criticism” was having an adverse effect not only on staff morale, and by extension recruitment and retention, but also on patients, they said.
The letter opened the floodgates as around 200 more staff came forward to share their own experiences and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman ordered an independent review, chaired by John Sturrock QC.
Mr Sturrock, an experienced mediator, began gathering evidence in December and his preliminary findings are expected later this month.
Bullying can occur in any workplace, but the implications for health service are more serious.
That was emphasised by Sir Robert Francis QC – who chaired the inquiry into the Mid-Staffs scandal in England – when he told MSPs in 2017 how a negative culture had given rise to a situation where up to 1200 patients died through poor care.
He said: “There was evidence that over a number of years staff had repeatedly reported incidents which they attributed to inadequacies in staffing.
“Not only was there an impression that feedback – and therefore encouragement to raise concerns – was rare, there was also highly worrying evidence of a culture of fear promoted by some staff resulting in some of those who raised concerns being victimised.”
Nonetheless, stories persist of whistleblowers silenced and sidelined across the UK.
A recent independent report into Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust in England described a “menacing, threatening and heavy-handed culture”.
It is the same trust where Dr Chris Day, a junior intensive care doctor, claimed to have been unfairly dismissed for whistleblowing over unsafe staffing levels and went on to win landmark legal protection for junior doctors who whistle-blow.
After an acrimonious four-year legal battle, Dr Day dropped his claim in October – but in a fresh twist now says he only did so after lawyers for the trust warned midway through his employment tribunal that it would seek to recover its own legal costs from him, a sum in excess of £500,000, if he lost.
The trust denies it made a “significant costs threat”.
In June 2018, an independent review into NHS Lothian blamed a culture of “bullying and harassment” for a fudging of A&E waiting times performance. The report said staff felt under pressure to prioritise patients about to breach the four-hour target over those who had greater clinical need, but “often felt unable to challenge this for fear of the consequences”.
In 2015, retired NHS Grampian medical director Donnie Ross said doctors are “crushed and got rid of because they criticise the system”.
It followed the case of Malcolm Loudoun, a surgeon at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary who was cleared of bullying by the GMC in what he claimed was a vindictive attempt by NHS Grampian to silence him after he raised concerns about patient safety – something the health board denied.
Michelle Ackerley is set to present new five-part BBC1 series Fraud Squad NHS
The series uncovers the work of the NHS Counter Fraud Authority
Last year, three NHS managers were jailed for their £700,000 fraud
A GP from Liverpool who earned £50,000 a year was caught increasing his pay
Estimates suggest thieves steal around £1.25 billion from the NHS annually
After a cancer operation is cancelled at a hospital in Scotland and the patient complains, the reason turns out to be that the tray of equipment needed – the contents of which cost £10,000-£14,000 – has vanished.
Further investigation exposes a case of theft on a horrifying scale.
In total 134 trays are found to be missing – at a staggering cost of £1.3 million – triggering a massive fraud investigation.
The culprit was Daniel Dreghorn, who was responsible for cleaning and sterilising surgical equipment at Ayrshire Central Hospital in Irvine.
The painstaking investigation, involving first the NHS’s own investigators, then the police, found Dreghorn was selling many of the items online at an enormous profit.
Michelle Ackerley (pictured) follows the work of the NHS Counter Fraud Authority in new five-part BBC1 series Fraud Squad NHS
The astonishing case, which saw him jailed for four years in 2015, features in jaw-dropping new five-part BBC1 series Fraud Squad NHS.
Presented by consumers’ champion Michelle Ackerley, it follows the work of the NHS Counter Fraud Authority, which was set up specifically to investigate fraud within the NHS.
Each year, thieves steal an estimated £1.25 billion from the NHS – that would fund 40,000 nurses, or pay for 5,000 ambulances.
What motivates the criminals? ‘Greed, pure and simple,’ says investigator Scott Fraser, who spent two years working on the Dreghorn case.
Those whose wrongdoing is exposed in this series range from a student nurse who falsely claimed grants and allowances and spent the money on holidays and cosmetic surgery, to organised criminals whose audacious scam conned a series of hospitals out of more than £12 million.
It’s a sickening series to watch. Robbing the NHS is a particularly heinous crime, say those trying to catch the bad apples.
As the Counter Fraud Authority’s chief executive Sue Frith puts it, ‘Fraud against the NHS is despicable.
‘If criminals take money out of the system, it affects us all.’
In episode two, we meet the aptly named Mrs Money, aka NHS accounts worker Brenda Money, who was working at the Memorial Hospital in Woolwich, south-east London when she began diverting petty cash into her own account.
Quite what possessed her to start on the dangerous and criminal route she went down is unclear, but Brenda, who was 61 when she was jailed in 2015, stole nearly £300,000 from the NHS.
An estimated £1.25 billion is stolen by thieves from the NHS each year, last year three NHS managers were found guilty of a £7000,000 fraud (file image)
Her husband David, 64, then laundered and helped spend the loot.
The pair splashed out on holidays to Turkey, the Caribbean and Hawaii, as well as shopping sprees in John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
How was she found out? By investigators who’d been alerted to a suspiciously high ‘float’ in the petty cash records.
Although the couple’s joint income – around £24,000 to £30,000 – barely covered their £2,000-a-month mortgage, cash being deposited into their joint account matched the large amounts leaving the NHS petty cash accounts.
Sometimes the deceptions are so outlandish they’re almost laughable.
Last year, three NHS managers were jailed after being found guilty of fraud to the tune of £700,000.
Mark Evill, 47, awarded contracts to his own construction firm George Morgan Ltd – named after his dog – while his colleagues Robert Howells and Michael Cope facilitated the scam.
Evill, who was given a seven-year prison sentence at Merthyr Tydfil crown court, invented fictitious characters in an effort to hide the crime, including employees called Paul Hewson and David Evans – the real names of Bono and The Edge from rock band U2.
Investigator Scott Fraser (pictured) who spent two years working on the Dreghorn case believes thieves are motivated by greed
The saddest stories in this series are those involving once-dedicated staff going ‘rogue’, such as the one in the final episode.
Michael Germaine, business director of a busy GP practice near Blackpool, had, despite already earning £50,000 a year plus bonuses, fraudulently awarded himself a pay rise by doctoring an email claiming he was entitled to a greater salary increase than the one already agreed.
His deception led to further scrutiny of both the practice’s and his own finances.
The result? In January last year at Preston magistrates court he received a 50-week prison term, suspended for a year.
Why would such people risk their career to boost an already generous salary? Greed seems to be the answer every time.
Some 356 whistleblowers in 2017-18 said they had experienced repercussions, ranging from “subtle” persecution by closing off career opportunities through to being fired unjustly.
Patient safety experts and whistleblowers said that deaths like those at Gosport War Memorial Hospital were likely to be happening in other hospitals as staff still could not raise concerns freely.
On Thursday healthcare safety academic Professor Brian Jarman told BBC News the reality for whistleblowers in the NHS was “they’re fired, gagged and blacklisted”, and a third of staff say they would be concerned about speaking out.
Dr Minh Alexander, a consultant psychiatrist who blew the whistle on serious mental health homicides and suicides at her Cambridgeshire mental health trust, said there were countless ways managers could retaliate.
“There’s a huge range of ways in which employers can persecute whistleblowers,” she told The Independent. “They’re too numerous to list exhaustively, but they can be subtle and beyond contractual redress through to gross criminal acts of harassment.”
Dr Alexander added that the National Guardian’s Office (NGO) – set up to ensure whistleblowing champions were in every trust in the wake unheeded staff concerns at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust – was a “huge disappointment”.
In 2016-17 more than 7,000 concerns were reported to NGO representatives at hospital and ambulance trusts. A third of these related to patient safety concerns while half related to issues of bullying and harassment.
Dr Henrietta Hughes, head of the NGO, said many of these now get resolved but one person in 20 say they faced recriminations as a result of blowing the whistle.
“The NHS has a very poor record in the past of supporting staff who have spoken up. I totally acknowledge that, but I’m looking at the current situation,” Dr Hughes said.
“We collect data on whether staff feel they’ve had detriment [after raising concerns], 5 per cent of people who have spoken up have had detriment – we’re talking 360 people”.
All 230 NHS trusts are required to ensure that anyone who victimises staff who speak up “will be subject to the full disciplinary processes of the organisation” and the NGO monitors whether this is taking place.
“I’ve been going around asking ‘can anybody give me an example of where you have acted on that detriment?’ I’ve heard one example so far,” Dr Hughes said.
While the 7,000 concerns raised in its first year was a good start, she said it was the “tip of the iceberg” and a lot of issues still needed to be flushed out.
“The more people who are aware this route exists and that it worked for them – that gives people confidence,” she said.
It came as the daughter of a nurse who tried to expose the Gosport scandal claimed her mother had been hounded out of her job and driven to depression.
Sylvia Giffin was among those who first raised concerns about the poor prescribing and administration of opioids at the Hampshire hospital nearly 30 years ago.
Her daughter Penny Wilson told the Daily Mirror: “After my mum spoke up, they were at her for every single thing.
“It made her very unwell. They forced her out but tried to blame it on ill health.”
Professor Jarman heads the Dr Foster unit at Imperial College London which uses health data to identify safety and quality issues emerging in NHS trusts and reports them to ministers and hospital chiefs to address.
He said these reports were not taken seriously by ministers and he would not be at all surprised to learn of more deaths, like those that took place at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.
“I’ve said I think there’s a culture of denial, even a denial machine,” he told the BBC.
“I hope the health secretary is not denying now. He will probably say they have set up the guardians in hospital to deal with people who are trying to whistleblow.
“But the whistleblowers that I have dealt with are not in the slightest bit encouraged by the guardian system.”
The health secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Thursday that the NHS needed to be to end recriminations against staff with concerns.
“We make it much too hard for doctors and nurses to do that – they are worried that there will be litigation, they will go up in front of the GMC or NMC, the reputation of their unit – in some places they are worried they might get fired, so we do have to tackle that blame culture and turn that into a learning culture,” he said.
Whistleblowing laws have been criticised as wholly inadequate for protecting those who speak out by MPs ( Getty )
An NHS boss who landed another senior role despite a fraud conviction and a suspension for “victimising whistleblowers” has prompted calls for a review of systems to prevent unfit appointments.
Paula Vasco-Knight was given a suspended sentence in 2017 after admitting abusing her position as chief executive of South Devon NHS Foundation Trust in 2013 to pay her husband out of NHS funds.
Vasco-Knight resigned her post in 2014 after an unrelated employment tribunal suspended her over her treatment of whistleblowers who raised misconduct concerns over the hiring of her daughter’s boyfriend to a job at Torbay hospital.
She was later employed at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London and had been promoted to acting chief executive before the fraud investigation came to light in 2016.
These rules apply to director level appointments across the NHS and are intended in part to prevent those with prior record of misconduct getting another job in the NHS.
Clare Sardari, a former nurse who, along with Penny Gates, lost her job after raising concerns over Vasco-Knight’s conduct said it was “shocking” she was found fit and proper.
“I was concerned that Paula’s past conduct was not given adequate weight in the recruitment process and that the CQC, when they received complaints, diminished the seriousness of her conduct,” she told The Independent.
Clare Sardari lost her job after raising misconduct concerns (Clare Sardari)
“By passing her as fit and proper, the CQC have given a public message that those who victimise whistleblowers can escape proper accountability and can be recycled.”
Ms Sardari, 61, was the main breadwinner in her family when she lost her job. Though she received a settlement in 2015 of £230,000 for legal costs, back pay and damages for the bullying and intimidation she faced, it did not cover lost future earnings and she has been unable to work since.
“The amount I was left with won’t last until I’m 65 and get my NHS pension,” she added.
“I’ve been blacklisted, I’ve lost my career, I’ve lost my identity, I lost a lot of my work friends, who were told not to communicate with me. I have depression and I’ve had to sit by and watch helplessly as the person who put me in this situation was feted by NHS and the CQC.”
Vasco-Knight pleaded guilty and was given a suspended prison sentence in 2017, along with her husband Stephen Vasco-Knight, after paying his firm £11,000 for a leadership improvements document that never existed.
The ombudsman found the CQC’s handling of the FPPR “was not transparent, fair or proportionate and it amounted to maladministration”.
The regulator was criticised for its poor record-keeping, and was found to have dismissed tribunal criticisms of Vasco-Knight, while giving her apology and references undue prominence.
Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said: “This case shows that CQC’s approach to making sure NHS trusts are employing the right people at director-level needs reviewing.
“The public and NHS staff must have confidence that NHS leaders are fit and proper to do the job and that whistleblowers will not be penalised for raising concerns.
The ombudsman partly upheld Ms Sardari’s complaint, recommending that the CQC apologise and offer her £500 “in recognition of the injustice caused to her”.
It must also report improvements it has made within eight weeks.
Ian Trenholm, Chief Executive at the CQC said it recognised its handling of the case “did not meet Ms Sardari’s expectations” and said it was committed to whistleblower protections.
However he said this was a challenging case where the tribunal verdict was one of a number of contradictory pieces of evidence for the trust to assess.
“We do have concerns about the approach adopted by the Parliamentary and Health Service ombudsman (PHSO) which led to some of the findings of maladministration,” he added.
NHS whistleblower Dr Chris DayCREDIT: JOHN NGUYEN/JNVISUALS
A junior doctor has been forced to withdraw whistleblowing allegations against the NHS claiming he was threatened with ‘life-changing’ legal costs if he lost the case.
Dr Chris Day, 32, flagged concerns about understaffing at an intensive care unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich in 2013 but was stripped of his Health Education England (HEE) training number, and forced out of his job.
Dr Day took the matter to an employment tribunal claiming the HEE had destroyed his career, yet was told that as a junior doctor he did not have the same whistleblower rights as other NHS staff, a position overturned by the Court of Appeal earlier last year.
But, after finally being allowed to take the matter to tribunal last month – four years after his initial complaint – Dr Day claims that halfway through his evidence he was warned he would be liable for huge costs if he lost.
Dr Day, said he was forced to accept a settlement rather than risk insolvency.
“After two and a half days of my six day cross examination I was contacted by my legal team and told that the NHS respondents had decided to inform me of their intention to seek costs for the entire four week hearing if I proceeded to cross examine any of the NHS’ 14 witnesses and ended up losing the case,” he told The Telegraph.
“It seems to me that this was designed to affect my ability to give evidence and to intimidate me into withdrawing my whistleblowing claims.
“After completing my six days of evidence, my wife and I, considering our responsibilities as parents, felt that we had no choice but to drop the case.
“I am disgusted at the way me and my family have been treated given that it has now finally been accepted that I was acting in good faith raising important safety issues and that I have performed a public service defending junior doctor whistleblowing protection from attempts to undermine it from NHS leaders.”
Norman Lamb MP said Dr Day had been placed in an impossible position
The HEE and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust have already spent more than £700,000 fighting the case, including paying £55,000 in costs to Dr Day after he won his initial case fighting for the rights of junior doctors to have full whistleblower protection.
Norman Lamb MP, who brought up the case with Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary and current health secretary Matt Hancock has now called for a public inquiry saying Dr Day had not so much been ‘priced out of justice’ as ‘crushed.
“When you have serious allegations relating to patient safety raised – by a person, a whistleblower, who’s risking everything to get them heard – there should be a fair and full hearing.
“What appears to be the case is that Chris Day and his family were put into, in effect, an impossible position – they were faced with a threat of costs, an abdication for costs, which would’ve destroyed them financially.
“It’s an outrageous use of taxpayer money to crush and prevent the full facts of a whistleblower’s case being aired it completely goes against the Department’s talk of openness and transparency,” he said.
Whistleblowers UK also warned that Dr Day’s decision to withdraw would stop other doctors coming forward to flag bad practice.
Georgina Halford-Hall, of Whistleblowers UK said: “The underhand tactic of offering Chris Day a financial ultimatum while he was under oath, and forcing a press statement with a drop-hand settlement, not only silences a whistleblower, denying them access to justice – it will also deter people from speaking out in future”.
The HEE denied it had threatened Dr Day, while the Trust said it ‘did not ask its legal representatives in the case to make a significant cost threat to Dr Day when he was under oath and, further, did not make this request at any point.’
But Bob Matheson, the Head of Advice and Advocacy from the whistleblowing charity Protect said the case highlighted the problem of raising concerns without financial backing.
“There is little value in strong whistleblowing rights in principle, if most of society can’t actually put them into practice,” he said.
“Legal costs for these sorts of claims can often run into the tens of thousands – simply unaffordable for all but the wealthiest in society – and proceeding in a claim without legal support is notoriously difficult.”
About 45 per cent of the complaints reported related to bullying and harassment DAVID JONES/PA
More than 12,000 NHS cases have been referred to the national whistleblowing tsar in the past 18 months.
Henrietta Hughes, the national guardian for the health service, said that employees had reported twice as many concerns over health and safety to her network of 800 guardians at hospital and ambulance trusts throughout England, compared with last year.
About 45 per cent of the complaints related to bullying and harassment, while about a third involved concerns over patient safety. Nurses were the group most likely to report a concern.
Dr Hughes, a GP and NHS manager, said the rise in complaints should be seen as a sign of greater confidence among NHS employees to speak up and challenge senior management when they encountered bad practice.
However, her claims were dismissed as “codswallop” by Minh Alexander, a former whistleblower and safety campaigner, who said Dr Hughes’ office had no mechanism to differentiate the serious cases from “low level gripes”.
Professor Sir Brian Jarman, who specialises in health safety data at Imperial College London, also questioned the impact of the national guardian, adding: “As far as I know, the vast majority of NHS whistleblowers are fired, gagged and blacklisted.”
He called for a body independent of the health service that whistleblowers could report to. The National Guardian’s Office was set up in 2016, following the Stafford Hospital scandal, in which staff concerns were ignored and hundreds of patients died unnecessarily.
Responding to accusations her office lacks real power, Dr Hughes said: “We’ve got examples where trusts have actively suppressed speaking up, and it hasn’t really done them an awful lot of good in the long run. My experience is that trusts don’t want to find themselves in that position.”
Ms Alexander said: “Just because the numbers are increasing, does not mean that the role is effective. It’s codswallop. There has to be real accountability.”
In total, 12,075 cases were reported to guardians, with 2,600 new cases during the third quarter of this year, compared with 1,300 cases during the first quarter of last year.
As his tribunal case is finally heard, Chris Day discusses winning protection for other junior doctors – and why he feels betrayed
Blowing the whistle in the NHS is meant to be easy. Medical bodies such as the Department of Health and Social Care, the General Medical Council (GMC) and individual hospital trusts all encourage the practice – on paper. But when Chris Day, a junior intensive care doctor, raised numerous concerns about understaffing and safety at the intensive care unit of Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich, he found out all too quickly the toll it would take on his career.
Day says he made a “protected disclosure” to hospital management and to Health Education England (HEE) – which oversees junior doctors’ training and career development – about the understaffing.But he says that far from being believed, he became the victim of a pernicious effort to discredit him and the issues he’d raised. A number of counter-allegations were made against him, and his HEE training number was deleted, effectively forcing him out of his career. “Looking back it was incredible that so much effort was going into discrediting me and my safety concerns,” he says.
Day went to an employment tribunal on the basis that his initial concerns hadn’t been taken seriously, and that he was suffering detriment, including loss of earnings, as a result of having raised them. The tribunal was set for February 2015, the same month, incidentally, that Robert Francis QC – author of a damning review into the now infamous Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal – published the long-awaited government-commissioned Freedom to Speak Up review, beseeching a “shared belief at all levels” of NHS organisations “that raising concerns is a positive, not a troublesome activity, and a shared commitment to support and encourage all those who raise honestly held concerns about safety”.
Yet during the initial hearing, HEE successfully argued that it didn’t have a duty to protect whistleblowing junior doctors suffering any kind of detriment because it wasn’t legally their employer. Day’s case was thrown out by the tribunal before it started.
This raised serious questions: if HEE didn’t have a duty to protect junior doctor whistleblowers, who did? And how long had this gap existed? What had started out as one doctor’s employment dispute had revealed a major gap in whistleblowing law which Day says points to a systematic lack of accountability at the top of the NHS. “Sir Robert Francis QC, in his report about Mid Staffs hospital, vividly highlights the NHS whistleblowing problem and the resultant effects on patient care. The fact that junior doctor whistleblowing protection was undermined in this way, weeks after his February 2015 report, is beyond belief,” he says.
Sir Robert Francis QC, in his report about Mid Staffs hospital, vividly highlights the NHS whistleblowing problem and the resultant effects on patient care.’ Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian
“It’s a question of access to justice,” says Bob Matheson, head of advice and advocacy at the whistleblowing charity Protect. “There’s something about whistleblowing, that sense that you’re doing what’s right in a healthcare situation; and then suddenly, everyone turns on you and you’re the bad guy.”
Three-and-a-half years, £200,000 of crowdfunded support, four grinding employment appeals tribunals, two hearings at the court of appeal – with the intervention of Protect – and one last employment tribunal later, HEE’s argument has been roundly rejected. And an employment tribunal ruled in May that junior doctors are covered by whistleblowing protections under the Employment Rights Act.
This week the hearing over his original tribunal case has finally begun. In a statement, HEE says: “Our position is that Dr Day resigned from his training programme despite HEE staff supporting him and encouraging him to remain on his training programme. We have been very clear all along that we strongly deny that HEE staff caused Dr Day detriment and in fact did what they could to help him which is what we will argue in the tribunal.”
“After four years I’m just relieved the important issues in this case are finally going to be heard and scrutinised by a specialist employment tribunal,” says Day. It’s been a bruising experience, but, Day says, one worth enduring. Not least because in 2017 a major peer review was published into the ICU ward around which Day’s disclosures were based, revealing grave concerns over staffing levels, incident reporting procedures and safety standards.
“It felt like the medical establishment was ganging up on me,” says Day. “Me and my young family feel betrayed by people who claimed to lead the medical profession. We’ve been left to fight alone for whistleblowing protection for all junior doctors and their patients. It’s all been on our shoulders.”
For now, Day is less optimistic. “What I’m worried about is that this sends the message that public bodies can gang up to stop a whistleblowing case being heard, and that politicians and regulators will turn a blind eye,” says Day. “If they can get away with this, what message does that send to someone who is considering speaking up or someone who is considering supporting or listening to someone who speaks up to them?”
In an age where information is tightly controlled by image-makers, spin doctors and gatekeepers, real scandal can often only be revealed with the help of whistleblowers.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the whistleblowing charity Protect (formerly known as Public Concern at Work) – we focus on 12 people who have taken great personal risk to expose everything from warmongers to tax dodgers and sexual and physical abuse.
“I could have been fined a million euros,” the Luxleaks whistleblower Antoine Deltour says when reflecting on his ordeal. Since passing information about controversial tax agreements to the French journalist Edouard Perrin, the former PricewaterhouseCoopers employee has faced global media attention and two trials. By 2016, more than 215,000 people had signed a petition pledging support for Deltour.
It was in 2011 that Deltour first passed documents to Perrin, detailing how companies such as Amazon and Dyson struck (perfectly legal) deals with Luxembourg to avoid cross-border tax. The International Consortium of Journalists used this leaked data to unveil the extent of the tax avoidance in 2014. Many of the multinational companies involved had managed to reduce their tax to near zero by developing complex strategies with the Grand Duchy.
The data leak was denounced by Pierre Gramegna, Luxembourg’s finance minister, as “the worst attack” ever experienced by his country. Indeed, Deltour grimly acknowledges the immense courage needed on his part. In 2016, he was convicted of theft, receiving a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €1,500. Even so, he still insists he would whistleblow again.
“Democracy demands information,” Deltour says. “I still believe I acted in the public interest.”
In early 2018, Deltour was finally acknowledged as a whistleblower, and his conviction was quashed. But in what Deltour describes as a “smart move”, a €1,000 fine against Raphael Halet, who also passed Luxleaks information on, was upheld. “There’s a message there,” Deltour notes. “By recognising me, they’re making out that they’re open. But by condemning Raphael, they’re making sure people think twice before speaking to a journalist.”
Katharine Gun was 28 when she tried to prevent one of the deadliest wars of the 21st century.
Whilst working as a mandarin translator at GCHQ, Gun and her colleagues received a request from America’s National Security Agency. The email requested an intelligence “surge’ of diplomats attached to the UN security council, to secure crucial information on the voting intentions of member states in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Gun, horrified at these “dirty-tricks”, leaked the email to the Observer, and was subsequently sacked and arrested, an ordeal which she describes as “isolating”. “I felt very much alone,” she says. “I didn’t know whether I would be charged.”
Although her leak did not deter the war, it did cause worldwide outrage, and a second UN resolution to authorise the war never occurred. Gun’s trial collapsed due to insufficient evidence, and her whistleblowing is now being immortalised in upcoming film Official Secrets. Would she blow the whistle again? “Yeah, I would,” she says. “There is always a need for whistleblowers – we don’t live in a society which is transparent, fair and just. Whistleblowers hold people to account.”
As a nurse with decades of experience, Terry Bryan was appalled by the abuse he witnessed at Winterbourne View, a hospital for people with learning difficulties. After his concerns were ignored by management, he raised his claims with the Care Quality Commission. In what the CQC described as an “unforgivable error of judgement”, no action was taken.
Bryan then turned to BBC Panorama, whose show Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed cast Winterbourne’s conditions into the limelight. Bryan’s whistleblowing led to six care workers being given prison sentences, and NHS England developing its 2011 “transforming care” agenda. The agenda aimed to reduce patient admissions to hospitals like Winterbourne.
Bryan now works for Care Inspectorate Wales, using his experience to inspect care homes and nursing homes around South Wales. When asked if he would be prepared to blow the whistle again, it was an unequivocal yes. “It’s about following your conscience,” he says. “How would you live with yourself if you didn’t do it?”
Awarded whistleblower of the year by Middlesex University in 2014, Osita Mba’s actions have been highly commended. In March 2011, the former HMRC solicitor contacted the National Audit Office, revealing a “sweetheart deal” between HMRC and the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs. Mba alleged that HMRC’s most senior tax official had let Goldman Sachs off paying at least £20m in interest. “I considered it my duty as a public servant to report it,” Mba reflects. After feeling unsatisfied with the NAO’s report in the matter, Mba then took the claims to the public accounts committee of the House of Commons. “Fortunately, my claims were taken seriously and investigated,” he says.
In an action widely condemned by MPs, HMRC then used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to search through the phone records and emails of both Mba and his wife. “I expected them to do it, so I wasn’t surprised when I found out that they had,” says Mba, who was also suspended from his job. Despite his ordeal, he is able to see the positives: “I have paid dearly in terms of my career so far, but the peace of mind I have enjoyed is priceless.”
In 2013, Mba received the equivalent of three years’ salary and pension contribution in a compromise agreement. Looking back, he describes whistleblowing as a “battle of conscience”. “Only the truth will set you free,” he says. “If I find myself in a situation where my conscience tells me that speaking out is the right thing to do, I will do it.”
Claire Gilham was a district judge at Warrington county court when she first raised her complaints. Working in family courts, she witnessed hostage-taking and violence, and was even alerted by the police that someone was threatening to kill her. Initially, she was encouraged to speak out, but gradually support for her waned. Isolated and excluded, she recalls telling her human resources team: “I can’t stand this, I’m going to break down.”
Gilham’s case remains unique among the other whistleblowers. Judges are not classed as workers, and so aren’t entitled to the legal protections usually given to whistleblowers. “I think it’s dangerous to exclude people from statutory protection,” Gilham says, when asked about her determination to take her case to the supreme court. It was previously dismissed by an employment tribunal and the appeals court, which upheld the ruling that judges are not workers.
Working with Protect (formerly Public Concern at Work) throughout her case, Gilham remembers their ability to reflect critically on her case. “It was reassuring to find that whistleblowers aren’t crazy, resentful people,” Gilham adds. Rather, they are simply people unwilling to assist in the concealment of mistakes.
“If judges, the most privileged people in the country, can’t speak out, then who can?” says Gilham, who feels a sense of responsibility for those less able to speak out. She is adamant that she would be prepared to blow the whistle again. “You have to reflect on what you’re doing and walk forward. You have to be ethical.”
In a 2016 speech in the Lords discussing his whistleblowing experience, the Conservative peer Kevin Shinkwin described it as the saddest moment of his career. Does he still view it this way? “Yes, it still is the saddest moment,” he says. “It completely shattered my trust.”
The incident in question happened in 2010, before Shinkwin entered the Lords and when he was working as the head of public affairs at the Royal British Legion. He was asked to sign an invoice of almost £10,000 for work done by an MP’s researcher, who was using his privileged access as a passholder to moonlight as a public affairs consultant. Shinkwin and his then boss both refused to sign it and recommended it should not be paid. They were over-ruled by the then Director General who only informed them he had personally approved payment retrospectively.“The issue of trust was paramount,” he says. “People give money to charities in the good faith that it will be spent properly.”
Although Shinkwin notes that there is no evidence the money was ever paid, he emphasises that the way he was treated for raising concerns is what matters. He was bullied by a senior director, who demanded that he approve the invoice. The then director general even led Shinkwin to believe a payment had been made. He says he was eventually eased out of his role at the Legion. “I knew that by speaking up, I was sacrificing my career,” he says.
Now, he is adamant that more protection for whistleblowers is needed, especially in the charity sector. “When charities suffer [as a result of whistleblowing], it is the people who depend on them who suffer more,” he says, before insisting he would be prepared to blow the whistle again. “My conscience wouldn’t let me not. I would not be able to sleep.”
Shinkwin is keen to emphasise that the Royal British Legion is a different place today. “I don’t believe what happened to me would happen at the Legion now,” he says, noting that the Legion has a completely new senior management team.
The past few months have been rough for Shahmir Sanni. Since March, he’s been alienated by those he trusted, fired from his job at the TaxPayers’ Alliance and outed as gay by Downing Street. All this stems from an interview published in the Observer – an interview in which Sanni alleged that the leave campaign broken campaign rules to win the Brexit vote..
“I was traumatised,” says Sanni of the moment that a rival revealed his sexuality. “I thought, you know what, screw these guys. I realised I had a moral duty to bring light on each and every individual. It was about justice for the British electorate, but also justice for LGBTQ+ people and people of colour, bigger than Brexit.”
Sanni’s interview revealed that Vote Leave were close to exceeding their £7m spending budget. They received a donation of £1m a couple of weeks before the referendum that would have tipped them over. They decided to “donate” £625,000 to BeLeave, a youth group founded by Darren Grimes. Initially ecstatic, Sanni quickly realised they would never see any of the money. Instead, it was ploughed back into Vote Leave’s campaign.
“What’s the point of democracy if you’re going to cheat?” asks Sanni, who still remains a committed Eurosceptic. “Justice comes when people are being investigated and fined.”
When asked if he would blow the whistle again, Sanni is unsure. “Short answer: yes. But I do often say probably not.” Sanni advises those who have had any minor or major mental illness, particularly people of colour, to think twice before whistleblowing.
“When you whistleblow as a minority, there are massive implications,” says Sanni, who recalls both Brexiters and remainers doubting his integrity. Despite this, he remains upbeat. When asked for a final statement, he jokes: “Follow me on Instagram.”
Quickly becoming serious again, he is keen to emphasise the gravity of the situation. “It was a huge electoral scandal. It’s about more than Brexit now. It’s about ensuring that our democracy is retained.”
When the media mogul Robert Maxwell died in 1991, he was mourned as the Daily Mirror’s “saviour”. Yet, in the wake of his death, a vast pension fraud was revealed. In all, some £400m was found to have been taken from the Mirror’s pension fund, leaving employees facing a bleak future. For Harry Templeton, who initially blew the whistle on this in 1988, the revelations came “too late”.
Templeton, a printer for the Mirror Group newspapers, sat on the board of trustees for the Mirror’s pension scheme. A union-approved trustee, he challenged Maxwell about the way he planned to use the pension funds. In a vote about the scheme, Templeton found himself outnumbered 13-1. The seven management-approved trustees on the board wouldn’t dare vote against Maxwell, Templeton recalls. The six other union-approved trustees were simply “very naive”.
“I had to bring my problems home to my family,” says Templeton, remembering his experience as demoralising. “It was like banging your head against a brick wall.”
Shortly after, he was fired from the company under the pretext of threatening another worker. “You have to remember, companies don’t sack someone for blowing the whistle,” Templeton says. “They find other reasons to, and they offer people incentives to keep their mouths shut.”
Templeton recognises the challenges that whistleblowers and their supporters face. “You have to try to do something about it, but the other side doesn’t stick to the rules, they find every method they can.”
Howard Shaw, a former detective sergeant at the Metropolitan Police, describes his experience as a whistleblower as a “lonely two years”. Now chief compliance officer at Joules Africa, Shaw blew the whistle after alleging that a former colleague cheated in a job interview that led to his promotion.
Shaw raised concerns with his superiors that the colleague had seen interview questions in advance. His claims were ignored and the individual was then appointed as his line manager. Shaw was subsequently removed from his unit.
“I was under the care of my doctor and on medication, I had counselling,” Shaw remembers. Unprepared to leave the unit quietly, Shaw brought the case to an employment tribunal, which awarded him £37,000 damages and £1,000 costs after finding that he did have legal protection as a whistleblower.
Despite his success, Shaw says regrettably that he would not blow the whistle again, but instead calls for reform of whistleblowing laws. “The law needs to be more user-friendly, more accessible and less judicial.”
Chris Day was a junior doctor on the way to becoming a consultant when his career progress was cut short. While working on a south London hospital’s intensive care unit, Day became increasingly concerned regarding staffing levels. “One of my principal disclosures was made in real time at the beginning of the night shift,” he remembers. “I had no choice – the consequences of not making the disclosure might have been even more scary.”
Yet Day’s allegations had lifechanging consequences for him. His whistleblowing cost him his consultancy career and he has been working as a locum doctor in A&E departments, while he fights his case. Instead of acting on his safety concerns, Health Education England attempted to argue they were not his employer.
“I don’t know why there is such resistance to culture change and meaningful legal protection for whistleblowers,” says Day, whose case has since succeeded, granting 54,000 junior doctors whistleblowing protection. “Maybe they think the public cannot cope with the truth about what is happening in the NHS.”
Day remains a vocal supporter of the NHS, and he has since mounted campaigns to keep it public. Reflecting on his experience, he says: “I would only whistleblow again if a person’s life was in immediate danger. Politicians want healthcare staff to keep quiet and get on with the job.”
From humble beginnings in Liverpool, Michael Woodford quickly rose through the ranks at digital camera company Olympus, before becoming the company’s first non-Japanese president in 2011. Just weeks later he became suspicious of several acquisitions the company had made in what turned out to be a £1bn fraud scandal. “I could look away, but if I did that I would become part of it. Once you’ve crossed that bridge, there’s no going back.”
However, the meeting Woodford called to address the claims quickly backfired. The board turned on him and he was fired. But when the fraud was linked to the Japanese mafia, Woodford realised his problems were only just beginning.
“I thought I was going to be assassinated,” recalls Woodford, who was forced by the company to give up his apartment and return to the UK. “At times I felt I was in Alice in Wonderland and I questioned my sanity. I was completely isolated.”
Fearing for the lives of both himself and his family, Woodford decided to seek safety through publicity. His actions led to two senior Olympus board members being sentenced to three years in prison. In 2012, Woodford won a £10m out-of-court settlement after suing Olympus.
Now a patron of the whistleblowing charity Protect, Woodford recommends that whistleblowers act with caution. “If you are going to take on a large company, make sure you seek advice, talk to people you trust and seek legal advice,” he says. He admits that whistleblowing isn’t easy, but is adamant he would be prepared to do it again.
Maggie Oliver remembers her experience as a whistleblower as one defined by stress, sleepless nights and fear. “They were the worst two years of my life,” says the former detective constable. “I truly believed I may be prosecuted for simply telling the truth and trying to expose the neglect of the authorities.”
While working with Greater Manchester police (GMP), Oliver had been central to uncovering a Rochdale paedophile ring. By interacting with the group’s victims nearly every day for six months, Oliver gradually gained the trust of the vulnerable girls. The girls eventually agreed to come forward, which led to nine members of the gang being sentenced in 2012.
For Oliver, though, the actions of the police were not sufficient to safeguard the victims. One of the girls, who had been abused since the age of 14, was named in court as someone who had helped the groomers. Disgusted, Oliver took her complaints to various departments of GMP, and even the Home Office, before resigning in 2012.
“All public organisations like the police … are interested in is protecting the organisation [rather] than listening to what a troublesome member of staff says, even if they are telling the truth,” Oliver says, who still feels protective of the girls she helped free from abuse.
“I have no regrets about the action I took,” she claims. “I feel proud to know I was strong enough to stand up for what I believed in, and fight to give these kids a voice.”
Louise O’Neill at Protect helped secure these interviews. An exhibition of these and other cases will run at Guardian Gallery, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N19GU from Monday 15 to Friday 26 October. Open each day from 10.00 to 18.00, admission free.
Produced by Joanna Ruck and Matt Fidler
Message from The Guardian where this article was published:
… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help.
The Guardian is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our Editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to the voiceless, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different to so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.
If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as £1, you can support the Guardian – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.
Three NHS managers cost Powys Teaching Health Board £1.4 million by using the names of U2 members to award contracts to a bogus construction firm, a court has heard.
Mark Evill, 42, Robert Howells, 65, and Michael Cope, 44, helped secure payments to a company set up by Evill himself, who then used the cash to buy properties, jewellery, cars and luxury holidays to Dubai.
A court was told project manager Evill set up a construction firm George Morgan Limited to secretly award contracts to himself from the health board.
He also created fictional employees using the real names of U2 band members Bono and The Edge to correspond with health board colleagues and wrote up fake invoices from legitimate firms to make sure his crimes were not uncovered by auditors.
Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard yesterday the construction work carried out was later considered to have “major deficiencies”, with remedial works bringing the total cost of the fraud to £1,420,604.66.
Work was carried out at Welshpool Hospital, Brecon War Memorial Hospital, and the health board’s headquarters at Bronllys Mansion House during 2014 and 2015.
Fellow project manager Howells and estate manager Cope were allegedly bribed with cash to endorse bids by George Morgan Ltd, knowing the firm was in fact owned by Evill.
Prosecutor Christopher Rees said: “Expenditure from the George Morgan bank account showed Mark Evill was living high on the hog at the expense of the National Health Service.”
Mr Rees said a total of £707,946.24 was paid by Powys Local Health Board to the George Morgan Ltd account.
Cash withdrawn from the account was allegedly used to buy a Land Rover Defender, an Audi A4, a Husqvarna motorcycle, holidays to Dubai, a Chanel watch and properties in South Wales.
Evill was interviewed by police in 2016, when he admitted creating two fictional employees, Paul Hewson and David Evans, who signed off on quotes and corresponded with the health board over email and phone.
Mr Rees told the court Paul Hewson is the real name of U2 singer Bono and David Evans the name of its lead guitarist, The Edge.
Mr Rees said: “It is a mark of the blatant, brazen and provocative dishonesty of Mark Evill that he chose to use the names of members of U2 to further this fraud.”
Howells was allegedly given a £10,000 Ford Focus and £1,000 by Evill as an award to enable the award of contracts and payments to George Morgan Ltd, despite knowing his fellow project manager was its sole director.
Cope was also allegedly given a £500 cheque to “endorse” the use of Evill’s firm to the health board.
Evill, from Earlswood Road, Shire Newton, denies three counts of transferring criminal property, fraud and perverting the course of justice.
Howells, from Sedbury, Chepstow, and Cope, from Garden City, Merthyr Tydfil, both deny one count of fraud. The trial continues.
Patient claims accounted for the loss of £341.7 million worth of public money ALAMY
Fraud costs the NHS £1.29 billion every year, according to the health service’s anti-corruption watchdog.
The money would be enough to pay for more than 40,000 staff nurses or buy more than 5,000 frontline ambulances, the NHS Counter Fraud Authority said in its annual report.
The organisation was established on November 1 last year. The new figure is higher than the £1.25 billion identified at its launch. The estimated total loss includes £341.7 million from fraud by patients and £94.2 million by staff.
Fraud by dentists adds up to about £126.1 million, the watchdog said, and opticians £79 million. Fraud in community pharmacies is estimated at about £111 million and in GP surgeries it is worth £88 million. People accessing NHS care in England to which they are not entitled is thought to cost the health service £35 million. The rest included fraud involving NHS pensions, bursaries and legal claims.
Simon Hughes, the authority’s interim chairman, said: “Ensuring public money pays for services the public needs and doesn’t line the pockets of criminals means we all benefit from securing NHS resources.”
Sue Frith, its interim chief executive, said: “Fraud always undermines the NHS, with every penny lost to fraud impacting on the delivery of vital patient services. If fraud is left unchecked, we believe losses will increase.”
The report said there was “no such thing as a ‘typical’ NHS fraudster”. It noted that there were barriers to tackling the issue, including a lack of understanding of the problem in many NHS services. It added: “There is also sometimes a mistaken assumption that reporting fraud casts the organisation involved in an unfavourable light.”
At the end of March there were 45 criminal investigations in progress, the report said. In July a neurology nurse from London was jailed for 16 months for fraud by false representation. Vivian Coker, 53, from Camberwell, took sick leave from August 2014 to May 2016. During this time she received pay of £32,000 from St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, but had also registered with two agencies and worked shifts. Coker initially denied the charges but changed her plea at Kingston crown court.
In March the authority helped to jail Andrew Taylor, a locksmith employed by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. He was sentenced to six years for defrauding his employer of £598,000. He had charged the NHS mark-ups of up to 1,200 per cent.
Taylor, 55, from Dulwich, was found guilty at Inner London crown court of fraud by abuse of position. Financial investigators “established that Taylor was leading a cash-rich lifestyle beyond his legitimate means, which included paying for his son to attend a private school whose fees were £1,340 a month and purchasing a brand new Mitsubishi L200 vehicle at a cost of £27,400”, the report said.
It also described the case of Paula Vasco-Knight, 53, chief executive of South Devon NHS Trust, who made fraudulent payments of more than £11,000 to her husband, Stephen. She admitted fraud by abuse of position in March 2017 and was given a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 250 hours of unpaid work by Exeter crown court.
The couple said that they did not have sufficient assets to repay the money but investigators found that they had access to personal pensions that could be surrendered.
Individuals who speak out and campaigners are driving change, but some who raise concerns are still not safe
As whistleblower Dr Chris Day finally gets his case fully heard, it is clear the health service and the rest of the public sector is still far from establishing the open culture that has repeatedly been promised.
Day is the latest in a long line of NHS staff forced to fight in an employment tribunal after making what he asserts was a “protected disclosure”.
It is true there has been progress. Following the 2015 review of health service whistleblowing by Robert Francis QC, there is now a network of “freedom to speak up guardians” across NHS trusts, supported by a national guardian for the health service, a post energetically filled by Dr Henrietta Hughes.
Her first report, published in September, reveals that more than 7,000 cases were raised with freedom to speak up guardians over the previous year. A third involved patient safety and service quality, and 361 people alleged they had suffered at the hands of their employer as a result of raising concerns.
That thousands of people feel able to approach the guardians – albeit a fifth of them anonymously – is promising, and Hughes pushing for action at the trusts that failed to record any cases is a good sign.
In research published this week, the charity Action Against Medical Accidents similarly reports improvements, with regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) using its statutory enforcement powers 108 times in 2017 against providers that were not complying with duty of candour rules.
But CQC inspections are still patchy in enforcing compliance and the national guardian lacks statutory clout over the way trusts respond to staff concerns.
In trying to gauge the state of raising concerns in the NHS, it is instructive to look at the data from the whistleblowing charity Protect about calls to its confidential legal advice line (full disclosure: I am a trustee of the charity, formerly called Public Concern at Work).
Last year health was the biggest source of its calls, as it has been since 2015, accounting for around a fifth of the total. For the last three years, half the health calls have related to patient safety, followed by ethical worries, working practices, financial malpractice and abuse of a vulnerable person. Calls about working practices jumped 82% last year in the face of NHS workforce shortages.
The number of health workers alleging to Protect they have been dismissed after raising concerns edged up from 27 in 2016 to 34 in 2017.
Education and social care are not far behind health in calls to the charity, with local government and financial services providing other major sources. There are strikingly few calls from either central government or the police. This, coupled with the Independent Office for Police Conduct recently launching an investigation after whistleblowers complained about the Metropolitan police’s own directorate of professional standards, shows how far the force may have to go in developing an open culture.
An ongoing review of ethical standards in local government by the Committee on Standards in Public Life is examining whistleblowing. This is long overdue; procedures are patchy and there is too little debate about the importance of whistleblowing to good local government.
The courage of individual whistleblowers and relentless pressure from campaigners is driving a more open culture in public services. But many managers still feel they can bully staff with impunity, employment rights are trampled on, the whistleblowing legislation itself needs strengthening and enforcement is weak. Whistleblowers are still not safe.
•Richard Vize is a public policy commentator and analyst
Message from the Guardian:
The Guardian is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our Editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to the voiceless, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different to so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.
If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as £1, you can support the Guardian – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.
Professor Marjan Jahangiri was suspended from St George’s Hospital in London
It was claimed she prioritised private patients and shouted at a nurse
The surgeon claimed she was sent a dead animal and decapitated doll in post
But today High Court judges lifted the suspension from hospital in Tooting
Professor Marjan Jahangiri outside the High Court
A failing NHS Trust that suspended one of the world’s top cardiologists has been ordered to reinstate her by a High Court judge.
Professor Marjan Jahangiri, 56, was excluded from St George’s hospital, Tooting, South London, after it was claimed she prioritised private patients over those from the NHS and had shouted at a nurse.
The surgeon, the first female professor of cardiac surgery in Europe, claimed she was subjected to a ‘campaign of bullying and harassment’, and was sent a dead animal and a decapitated doll in the post.
The St George’s Healthcare Trust was described as ‘toxic’ and in the grip of ‘dark forces’ in a report earlier this year.
As a result of that report, the hospital commissioned a second review into the revelations surrounding the Trust.
Employees were warned not to speak to any witnesses involved in that investigation but the Trust claimed that Jahangiri indirectly contacted one of the witnesses through her secretary.
But today the surgeon was vindicated by Judge Matthew Nicklin, who said: ‘Overall, the decision to exclude was irrational, in the public law sense.’
He said of the surgeon: ‘She has been successful, she had been required to come to court to obtain the relief that she has obtained.
‘Whist the impact of exclusion on an individual doctor is always likely to be severe, when a skilled and respected surgeon, about whom there are no concerns as to her ability, is excluded the consequences reach far beyond the individual.’
Professor Jahangiri was excluded from St George’s hospital after it was claimed she prioritised private patients over those from the NHS and had shouted at a nurse
Speaking outside the High Court, Prof Jahangiri said: ‘I am delighted with today’s judgement and very much look forward to returning to my patients, their families, my colleagues and my trainees.
‘My priority, as it has always been, is combining excellent patient care with research and training.
‘I am devoted to the NHS.’
The professor’s barrister Iain Quirke said the decision to exclude the professor meant that patients were missing operations that could save their lives.
‘This present application is urgent because with each day that goes by, patients booked for heart surgery with the claimant are cancelled,’ he said.
He went on to say that Jahangiri’s skills were so specialised that she was sometimes the only surgeon able to carry out specific kinds of complex operations.
‘In some cases, the claimant is only person at the trust who is able to carry out those operations.’
Mr Quirke told the court how the average heart surgeon in the UK has a mortality rate of 7-15%. Professor Jahangiri’s rate is 1.2%.
‘Despite that, she has been treated in the most outrageous way,’ he added, ‘She is the envy of the unit.
‘I really do believe that this hospital is in deep trouble and that’s partly because the management want to get rid of the professor.’
Mr Quirke went on to say that 14 different complaints had been made against Jahangiri because she had acted as a whistleblower in the past.
‘The basis that the claimant has been excluded on is the thinnest of grounds. The defence case it totally, totally hopeless and outrageous.
‘The unit is dismantling her research by reallocating it to others in the department – that is a drastic measure.
‘The continued exclusion is in breach of the defendants own policy. There must be a reasonable and proper reason to exclude – my Lord, there is not.
‘The trust is in special measures. She is an exceptional surgeon and in internationally recognised.’
He told the court that Jahangiri is the only female professor in cardiac surgery in Europe.
Mr Quirke went on to claim that her students at the hospital have threatened to leave if she doesn’t return to work.
He said that of the accusations levied against his client, ‘they are outrageous, they are scurrilous and they are made for malicious reasons,’ calling them a, ‘character assassination.’
Mr Quirke said that the delicacy involved in heart surgery required constant use of her skills and that her exclusion meant that she would be unable to practice the extremely complex operations needed to save lives.
The trust’s lawyer, Simon Cheetham QC said: ‘There is no suggestion that anyone is saying she is the source of [the trust’s] problems.
‘These are decisions that, whether they are right or wrong, were made in good faith.
‘It was necessary to suspend her because if that was the claimant’s behaviour, then it would have been bound to have had an impact on the report.’
Professor Marjan Jahangiri denied that she prioritised a private client over NHS patients as well as shouting at a nurse.
She also denied that her indirect interaction with the report witness required her suspension.
Judge Nicklin ordered that the suspension of Professor Jahangiri by the St George’s NHS Trust be overturned.
Speaking outside the court Jahangiri’s solicitor Katy Colton said the professor’s legal fight would continue.
‘Ultimately we are looking for a statement from the court saying this was a breach of contract,’ she said
The professor now wants a full judgement from the court stating that the professor had been treated unfairly by the hospital trust.
Jacqueline Totterdell, chief executive at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said she was disappointed by the outcome.
She added: ‘We are disappointed by the judgment issued today, but understand and respect it. We welcome that this ruling is not about guilt or exoneration, and the judge made no finding on the facts being investigated.
‘He has said that the exclusion process was not appropriate, but has allowed the trust to continue its investigation into very serious issues raised.’
Marjan Jahangiri was the first female professor of cardiac surgery in Europe
Jahangiri was one of two surgeons excluded after a report found a ‘toxic feud’
In April a dead animal and a decapitated doll was sent anonymously to her home
A leading heart surgeon was sent a dead animal and a decapitated doll in the post as part of a ‘toxic feud’ after she blew the whistle over unsafe care.
Marjan Jahangiri, the first female professor of cardiac surgery in Europe, claimed she had been targeted because of ‘envy at her success’.
The surgeon, who operates on more than 250 cases a year at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, South London, said a ‘witch hunt’ had led to her suspension from her post.
Professor Marjan Jahangiri was the first female professor of cardiac surgery in Europe
Professor Jahangiri was one of two surgeons excluded earlier this month after an internal report found a ‘toxic feud’ between two rival camps of surgeons had resulted in patient deaths.
The professor claimed the hospital was ‘an environment that appeared to be more interested in cover-ups and petty vendettas than patient welfare’.
Yesterday she asked the High Court for an order to lift her exclusion from St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust with immediate effect.
Her counsel, Iain Quirk, said that despite being an extremely skilled surgeon, Professor Jahangiri had been treated in the ‘most outrageous’ way and targeted because of the ‘envy at her success’.
He told Mr Justice Nicklin she was excluded earlier this month on ‘the thinnest of grounds’ against the background of the Bewick report, an investigation into patient safety at the hospital.
There were claims of a ‘dark force’ in the troubled heart unit, the court heard. But Mr Quirk cited 14 complaints which had all been dismissed and alleged they were ‘motivated by those who are seeking to harm her reputation and standing, not least because she made whistleblowing disclosures’.
Jahangiri operates around 250 cases a year at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, South London
In April a package containing a dead animal and a decapitated doll was sent anonymously to Professor Jahangiri’s home address, The Times reported. ‘This was incredibly distressing for me and my family and I still feel traumatised whenever I receive a package,’ the professor said.
It came after she had expressed concern over the competence of her colleagues and added that the ‘vicious behaviour towards me was in retaliation for my actions’.
Mr Quirk said: ‘The inescapable conclusion is that this is a witch hunt – an attempt to pin the blame for the department on her.’
He added that Professor Jahangiri’s trainees – who said they would leave if she was not reinstated – were not being trained properly, the unit was dismantling her research and operations had been cancelled without patients being given a reason. Professor Jahangiri’s practice and reputation had been seriously harmed, the court was told.
‘Exclusion is the worst thing that can happen to a doctor, and for one of the country’s leading professors in cardiac surgery it is disastrous,’ added Mr Quirk.
Professor Marjan Jahangiri’s trainees said they would leave if she was not reinstated
Just two weeks away is enough to allow those complex skills to lapse, which is why she has never had more than two weeks off. Her practice has been decimated.’
Simon Cheetham QC, for the NHS Trust, acknowledged Professor Jahangiri’s clinical skills and what she had contributed in the way of research and training, and said there was no ‘vendetta’ against her. The much bigger issue was the state of the cardiac unit which had a knock-on effect on the Trust’s future as a major trauma centre.
The Bewick report had identified a unit ‘in crisis’ at St George’s but no-one was saying Professor Jahangiri was the source of the problems, he told the judge.
Her exclusion arose from an allegation that she impeded the conduct of a Trust-commissioned review by contacting a witness.
‘We say it was necessary because, if that was the claimant’s behaviour, it was bound to have an impact on the review being carried out,’ said Mr Cheetham.
It was necessary, he added, that the review was completed quickly and efficiently and maintained its integrity. The judge is to give his decision on Tuesday.
THE UK’S leading hospital safety expert has written to the head of NHS England demanding better protection for whistleblowers amid the Gosport scandal.
Solent News & Photo Agency
Dr Jane Barton is believed to be on holiday in Mallorca
Professor Sir Brian Jarman, director of the Dr Foster Unit at Imperial College, London, which analyses excess patient deaths, said whistleblowers’ concerns must be overseen by an independent body as part of “radical changes” to improve patient safety.
He composed his letter in the wake of a government report into Gosport War Memorial Hospital, which found 456 elderly people died there in a 12-year period after being given lifeshortening opioid drugs.
The families of those who died campaigned for years to lift the lid on the scandal, for which both the Government and the NHS have apologised.
The report found GP Dr Jane Barton, who worked at the Hampshire hospital as a clinical assistant, routinely over-prescribed drugs during the 1990s, but nothing was done despite warnings by hospital staff.
And Prof Jarman’s call was echoed by a former head of the trust which investigated the Gosport deaths, who claimed parts of the NHS were operating as a “totalitarian state”.
Prof Jarman, a former president of the British Medical Association, said new powers were needed to “guarantee whistleblowers are not penalised for reporting problems or abuses” and “any NHS manager who disadvantaged a whistleblower’s career should be fired on the spot”.
He said all whistleblowers – currently overseen by the NHS-run Care Quality Commission – should instead report to a separate independent body, adding: “The NHS should not be in charge of investigating its own problems because of the risk of bias. It must be seen to be independent.”
Prof Jarman, whose group uses NHS data to make the health service safer, said the scandal surrounding Gosport could be mirrored elsewhere in the country because whistleblowers are still blacklisted for raising the alarm.
The families of those who died campaigned for years to lift the lid on the scandal
‘At the moment whistleblowers are fired, gagged and blacklisted’
He said: “At the moment whistleblowers are fired, gagged and blacklisted. I fear similar abuses could be going on elsewhere and at the moment we cannot be sure they are not.”
His letter, which has been passed to the Sunday Express, states: “In the light of the Gosport Memorial Hospital report, I am writing to you regarding the large numbers of deaths in that hospital and the need to exclude the possibility that a similar situation is not occurring in other English hospitals. Many patients, bereaved relatives and whistleblowers are deeply frustrated that disclosures to the CQC have not resulted in change.
“On the contrary, if NHS staff whistleblow they may still be fired, gagged and blacklisted. A truly independent of the NHS investigation facility for learning from serious failures is needed. Radical changes are needed if NHS safety is to improve.”
His comments have been echoed by a former governor of the trust which investigated the Gosport death scandal, who said last night the NHS was operating as a “totalitarian state”, with whistleblowers routinely suppressed amid a climate of fear.
John Green told the Sunday Express patients would continue to die needlessly under defective systems and a “form of anarchy” over consultants’ clinical practice and responsibility.
He said: “The NHS is like a Stalinist dictatorship where families, relatives and clinicians have no say in an institution motivated by a drive to save money under incompetent management.
Relatives of Gosport patients demonstrate outside the General Medical Council in London
“The system is seriously broken and people are dying like faulty products off a production line.”
Mr Green, an ex-public governor of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which took over responsibility for Gosport War Memorial Hospital, added: “Most people who work in the NHS are dedicated and caring, but because they work in such a dysfunctional management system, it is a shambles.”
Mr Green, who joined the board of Southern Health in 2012, long after the deaths but before the inquiry, resigned “in disgust” in 2016, angry at how the NHS was being run.
He is now part of a new drive to improve the reconstituted Southern’s performance and has sent a list of 17 potential NHS reforms to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and all MPs.
“We have to get this right,” Mr Green said.
“But the only people who are going to be able to create change are the public by demanding better standards and breaking up this totalitarian state.
“Southern are now involving customers at board level and in the design of services and that is the only way unnecessary deaths can be eliminated.”
Mr Hunt says tougher checks mean a repeat of Gosport is unlikely and Dr Henrietta Hughes, the NHS national guardian – a post that promotes a more open culture – said more than 6,700 cases were raised to keep patients safe and support staff over the last year.