Should NHS Whistle-blowers always be protected?

9 February 2015

Should NHS Whistle-blowers always be protected?

NHS Whistle-blowers are Heroes and should be Protected

by Will Powell 

I was very interested in a recent article published in “The Spectator” on the 3rd January 2015. The article is about a cancer surgeon named Joseph Meirion Thomas. He interpreted the published Francis Report as giving healthcare professionals protection if they were to speak out about failures within the NHS regarding patient safety issues. He also took the view, rightly or wrongly, that speaking out complied with a doctor’s duty of candour. However, little did he know that speaking out to improve the NHS would result in him being suspended from his job and ordered not to air his views in public again. Sadly, this has been the case for copious NHS whistle-blowers, over the years. Some have even suffered a far worst fate and lost their homes when others have had to leave the UK to seek employment abroad when these are the very healthcare professionals who could help return our NHS to its former glory. Mr Thomas should not have been vilified by his peers but applauded for doing what the Government, Department of Health and NHS purport as the right thing to do.

Mr Thomas is also gagged which, in my view, speaks volumes for the purported integrity of the NHS and the Department of Health’s public claims that all healthcare professionals are encouraged to speak up about patient safety issues. Contrary to the appalling treatment he has received from our Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt, and others, Mr Thomas is, in my view, a HERO and I have no doubt that the majority of the public would say the same. He is clearly a man of integrity who only wants to improve the care provided by our NHS for young and old alike.

You can access the full article at:

http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9407312/the-curious-case-of-meirion-thomas/

I have always personally supported whistle-blowers for a variety of reasons. More so as I see myself and others, who have suffered damage or the loss of a loved one, as a consequence of medical error, incompetence or medical negligence, as public whistle-blowers.

In fact, at a patient safety conference in 2013, I publicly asked the Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission [“CQC”], David Behan, if he would give an undertaking that the CQC would interview all current and historic whistle-blowers. Mr Behan said he would think about it – suggesting that the CQC hadn't even thought of it. Why had the CQC not already implemented this with all their high flying and highly paid executives and advisers? In order that he didn't forget to respond to this, which I thought was an important request, I followed the matter up in writing in an email dated 23rd May 2013. As a consequence I subsequently had a meeting with Mr Behan on the 10th September 2013 in London. 

I attempted to address four main issues: 

1. The interviewing of all current and historic whistle-blowers to ensure that the same problems did not still exist within that particular hospital/care home when inspections take place present time.

2. An inspection of all current and historic NHS complaint files to establish how they were investigated; at the time, what lessons were learned and to ensure that the same problems do not still exist when inspections take place present day.

3. Clarification on current and historic gagging clauses. And

4.  For the CQC to support a public inquiry into NHS whistle-blowers and how they have been vilified over the decades.

I have also noted over years that there is an attempt by some officials to assassinate the good character of NHS whistle-blowers and serious allegations are made frequently that some whistle-blowers have skeletons in their cupboard or a hidden agenda. Some say attack is the the best form of defence but it is perverse when maliciously used to discredit individuals who want to save lives and who care about patient safety within the NHS.

A way to assist and protect anyone wishing to raise concerns in the NHS could be to introduce the following:

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.

I appreciate that the above is only a bare bones concept to introduce protection for whistle-blowers. However, in my view, it would be an improvement to what they now have.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

A massive thank you also to all NHS Whistle-blowers for the services they have provided in the interests of patient safety but sadly to their own personal detriment.

Will Powell

NHS Adviser for Mistreatment.com