By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 17 October 2016
Jeremy Hunt’s camp has repeatedly and shamelessly exploited the maternity safety scandal at Morecambe Bay trust to shore up the Health Secretary’s claims to be a patient champion. It’s all tosh of course, as a true patient champion would not be swinging a wrecking ball at the NHS.
Last week, another “New! Shiny! Improved!” Morecambe Bay story did the rounds.
It related to an important issue of how some NHS organisations pay off and silence those implicated in wrongdoing. The Health Service Journal reported that Morecambe Bay trust reached a settlement with one of the midwives in the maternity scandal, which stipulated that she would not be investigated:
“Following discussions between the employee and the trust, the employee has opted to take early redundancy and as a result the employer has agreed not to commence an internal investigation into the employee’s performance as maternity risk manager.” [1 ]
The trust itself had revealed this settlement, four years after it had been agreed. Some rushed to claim that the disclosure meant that NHS culture was changing, and by implication, that our glorious Health Secretary Hunt had delivered promised change culture. Compliments were also heaped on Morecambe Bay’s new regime.
Whistleblowers have a different perspective. Russell Dunkeld ( @RussellDunkeld ) an NHS whistleblower and a former Morecambe Bay trust nurse had continuing difficulties with the trust, which were recently covered by the Lancaster Guardian. 
Since Morecambe Bay’s current chief executive Jackie Daniel took up her post in August 2012, the CQC has reported via its ‘intelligent monitoring’ updates, of October 2013, March 2014, July 2014 and December 2014, that there were repeated external ‘whistleblowing alerts’ by trust staff.
In 2014 two whistleblowers raised concerns about the safety of breast cancer screening services, leading to a Public Health England external review.  There was controversy about the treatment of the whistleblowers. The Mirror noted:
“Public Health England were approached by the whistleblowers after the trust – which is in special measures – initially refused to investigate. The whistleblowers found themselves suspended and barred from working in breast screening when they complained 12 months ago.” 
There has also been correspondence to Jeremy Hunt about the trust’s behaviour. One of the letters to Jeremy Hunt was by local councillor Azhar Ali:
“I am writing to express my deep concerns regarding the manner in which a whistleblowing incident within the breast cancer screening unit at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay is being addressed…I am aware that one of the clinicians who raised concerns have nearly left the Trust due to the upheaval…Could I urge you to establish an independent team to ensure that the whistleblowers’ concerns are fully taken into account…”
Last year, there were concerns about the deaths of women who died after being given the all clear on cancer. But New! Shiny! Improved! Morecambe Bay trust refused to fully disclose the outcomes for all patients affected by screening errors. 
Most recently, I asked the trust about its spending on Capsticks LLP’s legal and related services in whistleblowing cases. The trust resisted the FOI request but on appeal to a trust governor, a full disclosure was made.
Morecambe Bay trust FOI disclosure 24 June 2016:
On Jackie Daniel’s watch, £92,519 had been spent on Capsticks’ services in the case of the breast screening whistleblowers. Capsticks have been instructed by NHS bodies in a number of other whistleblowing cases. Two examples are:
Maha Yassaie, former Berkshire West Chief Pharmacist, described by a Capsticks investigator as ‘too honest’ for the NHS.  The Telegraph has reported on how the same Capsticks investigator tried to coach witnesses during the investigation. 
Hayley Dare, Consultant Psychologist.  Dr Dare’s statement for the Employment Tribunal can be found here:
The statement shows that Dr Dare was offered an independent investigation into her concerns by her former chief executive Steve Shrubb, but it turned out that the trust’s own solicitors Capsticks were appointed:
When there is legal spend by trusts in whistleblower cases, this implies that a failure of governance is likely and that an employer may have tried to turn whistleblowing matters into an employment dispute. This is a classic strategy for neutralising whistleblowers.  As successive whistleblowing cases have also shown, trusts often call the lawyers in at an early stage to help plan whistleblowers’ exits, long before any formal litigation.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t join the rush to proclaim that Morecambe Bay has transformed. Nor will I agree that the recent disclosure of the non-investigation clause augurs cultural change across the NHS. If Hunt was serious about eradicating inappropriate settlement agreements in the NHS, he would have taken real steps to deter them. Instead, he just indulged in some empty political theatre, and he allows the CQC to shirk its responsibilities on inspecting NHS gags. 
One has to wonder how much of the continuing hype about Morecambe Bay is just more stage managed Hunt-ery. As a piece by Conservative Home noted, Hunt has set out to re-brand his party’s image on the NHS:
“Labour has enjoyed a poll lead over the Conservatives on health for time out of mind. Hunt’s task is to stop it getting larger and to start leading a counter-attack.” 
The illustration to the piece, bedpan and all, is a fitting metaphor for Hunt’s real intentions.
No one believes Jeremy Hunt on patient safety or whistleblowers, not even his own appointees
A comment on the Health Secretary’s propensity to govern by spin and a chronicle of the National Freedom to Speak Up Guardian debacle.
Suppressed Homerton maternity whistleblowers, FOI disclosure of the London clinical senate on four maternal deaths and the latest National Guardian for whistleblowing
Updated notes and documents about this whistleblowing scandal, where a cluster of maternal deaths occurred after whistleblowers were ignored, including by CQC.
An update about the latest National Guardian for whistleblowing, and the embarrassment caused to the Health Secretary by comments in her first press interview.
St. Robert of Richmond House. The NHS denial machine. How the Department of Health and the Care Quality Commission built a brand.
 Irregular ‘payoff’ deal at scandal hit trust. Shaun Lintern, Health Service Journal 12 October
 Former nurse blasts Morecambe Bay health trust’s whistleblowing policy, Nick Lakin, Lancaster Guardian 22 July 2016
 The Public Health England report of its review of breast screening at Morecambe Bay:
 Morecambe Bay NHS Trust: Two women died after bungling screening tests missed 24 cancers, Martyn Halle and Rachel Mc Dermott, Mirror 4 June 2015
 Cancer diagnosis shock at Barrow hospital’s trust, North West Evening Mail, 13 July 2015
 NHS whistleblower told she was ‘too honest’ to work for the NHS. Lyndsey Telford et al, Telegraph 3 April 2016
 NHS whistleblower investigator in Freedom to Speak Up role, Lyndsey Telford and Claire Newell, Telegraph 4 April 2016
 NHS mental health trust admits whistleblower who spoke out about bullying acted in good faith. Paul Gallagher, Independent 7 November 2015
 21 Ways to Skin a Whistleblower. Andrew Bousefield and Dr Phil Hammond, 2011 http://medicalharm.org/uncategorized/the-full-21-ways-to-skin-a-whistleblower/
 NHS gagging. How CQC sits on its hands. Minh Alexander 23 September 2016
 Jeremy Hunt, quiet reformer. Conservative Home. Paul Goodman, 13 November 2014