Response to Sir Robert Francis’s Speak-up Review

16 February 2015

Response to Sir Robert Francis’s Speak-up Review

Sir Robert Francis’s Speak-up Review – Still no redress or accountability for historic whistleblowers – Sadly, nothing changes for the historic victims of injustice

By Will Powell

It is interesting that my proposal wasn’t that dissimilar to Sir Robert’s main recommendations. Did Sir Robert actually adopt my proposal as I have been suggesting this approach for some time? I suggested:

1.  Appoint a Minister for Whistle-Blowers [or similar] at the Department of Health.

2.  Appoint a Concern Manager [or similar] at every hospital/care home to listen to patient safety concerns of all healthcare professionals.

Sir Robert recommended:

1. A "Freedom to Speak Up Guardian" to be appointed in every NHS trust to support staff, particularly junior members.

2. A national independent officer to help guardians when cases are going wrong.

You wouldn’t be wrong to suspect that I actually had sight of Sir Robert’s recommendations before I drafted my blog. However, that certainly wasn’t the case. In fact, my request to give oral evidence to the Mid Staffs Public Inquiry and the Speak-up Review were both rejected as was my request to be part of Ann Clwyd’s Review into the NHS complaints procedure. It would appear that my personal experience, over 25 years, regarding the cover up culture within the NHS is of little significance to the people who purport to want change.

You will also note that it didn’t cost the public purse anything, take an 8 month inquiry and the consideration of 600 participants to come up with a plausible solution.

Since giving oral evidence to the Health Select Committee [“HSC”] in 1999 with regards to the inquiry into ‘Procedures Related to Adverse Clinical Incidents and Outcomes in Medical Care’, which was incidentally set up directly as a consequence of the perverse Court of Appeal ruling in Robbie’s case [i.e. doctors could lie about the circumstances of a patient’s negligent death], I have been excluded from all official inquiries into NHS issues.

My two subsequent requests to give oral evidence to the HSC have been rejected notwithstanding even Charlotte Leslie MP wrote to every member of the HSC proposing I give oral evidence because of the vast experience I have gained over the last two decades. Why? Simply because I made public the tragic events of Robbie’s needless death, exposed the cover up culture within the NHS/government and exposed the fact that the HSC turned a blind eye to the injustices my family had suffered, by engaging the old and trusted cliché that “we can’t look at individual cases”.

History has repeated itself, yet again, with regards to Sir Robert’s Report on whistleblowers as it would appear that there is no recommendation to address the injustices suffered by individual historic whistleblowers notwithstanding some have lost both their beloved careers and homes. I am told that some may have even lost their lives as a consequence of suicide.

I see whistleblowers and NHS complainants fighting the same cause and that is to improve patient safety issues within our NHS. However, the establishment see us as the enemy, not because we are wrong, but because we expose gross failures in the system and individuals, which is clearly detrimental to the wellbeing of our NHS. The establishment would rather cover up errors than address them for the better of all. There is conveniently no accountability when protocols, guidelines and laws are blatantly breached and that’s exactly how the establishment, in my view, want it to stay. I believe Sir Robert has failed again to ensure accountability when whistleblowers are vilified for speaking out.

It also frustrates me so very much when I hear arguments that healthcare professionals fear being open and honest about errors because of the alleged blame culture. All patients request is that doctors who make mistakes should be honest and accept responsibility for their actions – is that really too much to ask in a purported democratic country? It’s not the blame culture that healthcare professionals should fear but the consequences when they decide to lie and cover up their mistakes. The cover up culture in the NHS is like a very naughty child – it needs to receive appropriate punishment to make it stop.

A reminder of my proposals to protect whistleblowers:

1.  Appoint a Minister for Whistle-Blowers [or similar] at the Department of Health.

2.  Appoint a Concern Manager [or similar] at every hospital/care home to listen to patient safety concerns of all healthcare professionals.

3. The Concern Manager, regarding serious issues and patient safety, should take a full statement of truth from the healthcare professional, which should be automatically copied to the Minister for Whistle-Blowers.

4.   The Concern Manager should fully investigate and report back to the healthcare professional and copy his/her findings/recommendations to the Minister for Whistle-Blowers.

5.   If the healthcare professional is satisfied then no further action would be necessary.

6.   However, if the healthcare professional is dissatisfied with the Concern Manager’s investigation the matter should then be forthwith referred to the Minister of Whistle-Blowers for a full investigation.

7.    If it is established that the Concern Manager has not adequately investigated the concerns, or he/she, or anyone else for that matter, has in any way shape of form discriminated against or bullied the healthcare professional raising the concerns, then they should be forthwith suspended pending a discipline investigation into their misconduct.

Your comments would be welcomed – thank you.

Will Powell

NHS Adviser for