The Sunday Times 16 March 2014
Kate Clarke met David Nicholson, the NHS boss, last week (Lorne Campbell/Richard Lea-Hair)
AN NHS whistleblower believes she has been blacklisted for raising concerns about the conduct of agency nurses working at a failing hospital.
Kate Clarke, a locum health worker, has not worked for the NHS since May 2010, shortly after making a string of allegations about standards of care at Russells Hall hospital in Dudley, West Midlands.
With the help of Cure the NHS, a campaign group, she recently secured a meeting with Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of NHS England, where she raised concerns about her treatment and also about the hospital. Clarke promised to look into her claims.
In 2010 Clarke submitted allegations to hospital bosses that some agency nurses were sleeping for part of their 12-hour shifts.
The nurses, she said, were exhausted after starting work soon after completing an earlier shift as employees of the NHS at other hospitals.
Clarke claimed: “These nurses were working at other Midlands hospitals doing their day shifts and [were then] being paid £648 for a shift where they spent a third of their time asleep … These nurses were being paid outrageous amounts of money and weren’t doing the job because they were just too tired to stay awake.”
Clarke also told bosses of her concern about nurses working for up to 20 consecutive days and wearing dirty fleece jackets that risked spreading infection. Within weeks the hospital had stopped using her services.
In a statement Paula Clark, chief executive of the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Some of Ms Clarke’s concerns had foundation and appropriate action was taken at the time.
“For example, upon investigation we found that some staff were wearing fleeces in contravention of our Bare Below the Elbows infection control policies … We found no evidence of staff sleeping while they were on duty during the period the allegation was made.”
Responding to Clarke’s claims that she had been blacklisted, the trust said: “Ms Clarke never had a contract of employment with the trust … In May 2010 we stopped using Ms Clarke to do shift work after colleagues raised concerns about her inappropriate behaviour.”
It said Clarke, who has two sons serving in the army, had been offered the chance to rejoin the trust’s staff bank in 2011 but had declined.
Dudley was among 14 hospital trusts investigated over high death rates last year. A subsequent report by Professor Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, found staffing levels and the handling of patients’ complaints to be inadequate.
The trust, which spent £10.4m on agency staff in 2009-10, said it had launched a £7.5m recruitment drive.
Clarke, who now cleans tables at a fast-food restaurant after being unable to find work with the NHS, said she remains unconvinced by pledges to listen to and protect whistleblowers.
She first sent emails to Nicholson outlining her concerns about Russells Hall in 2009 but did not receive a reply. An email to Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, received only an automated response; a note to Andrew Lansley, his predecessor, went unanswered.
Fiona Bell, a Cure the NHS campaigner in the northeast who accompanied Clarke to the meeting with Nicholson, said: “He looked visibly shaken by some of the things he heard from Kate. Whistleblowers need to be protected because they are the eyes and ears of relatives.
“They witness things that families don’t see. They need protection from management but are frequently persecuted and get sacked or suspended.”