Letter by Richard von Abendorff to the Patients Association 22 December 2016
Richard von Abendorff is a patient safety campaigner. He campaigned against the odds to secure a patient safety alert about an important potential drug interaction. He is a Patient Safety Ambassador for the Patients Association and a Patient and Public Voice for NHS Improvement (NHSI). Richard is working to raise awareness of an NHS safety reporting portal which is open to everyone, including patients and families, and he is also working with NHSI on the system’s response to concerns raised via this route:
Richard has written to the Chief Executive of the Patients Association, copied to Sir Robert Francis the President of the Patients Association about his concerns regarding the National Freedom to Speak Up Guardian’s office.
Both Sir Robert Francis and the Patients Association took part in the appointment process for both the current and previous National Guardian. The Patients Association is also invited to a crucial National Guardian event in the New Year, that will discuss how a ‘stakeholder advisory group’ for the National Guardian’s office will be established. Dr Henrietta Hughes the National Guardian has informed the Health Service Journal that this stakeholder advisory group will choose the whistleblowing cases to be reviewed by the National Guardian.
|Stop the tokenism used as cover
I am a patient whistle-blower to harmful healthcare failings. NHS Improvement has asked me to be candid and challenging as a Patient Public Voice. The Patients Association asked me to be their Patient Safety Ambassador.
For these reasons, I will be candid about Minh Alexander’s continuing revelations on the scandalous failures to listen to and protect whistle-blowers. They need attention and action now.
There are three things I have learned on my more than 5 year journey:
1) Harmful events need diligent, robust, honest expert attention leading to learning and action. All authorities agree this is not happening nearly often enough
2) How patient and health care whistle-blowers are treated is key indicator of the extent of systemic cover up in the NHS. The labelling of patients and families as vexatious and horrific sanctions against whistle-blowers leading to career and life changing consequences reveal an unacceptable system.
The failure of regulators and other bodies of last resort (e.g. CQC, PHSO) to do their job to address these matters is truly shocking and shameful.
3) The final damning cap on it all is when potential solutions to these systemic failings are designed from the outset to be weak and feeble, with only tokenistic representation from those on the front line directly affected e.g. patients and whistle-blowers.
I urge the Patients Association and any other body purporting to represent the urgent needs of harmed patients not to be used as a ‘human shield’ to legitimise tokenistic and ineffective measures, even if with good intentions.
I write this all in reference to the list of those invited to the new National Guardian’s table, to scrutinise and help develop her proposed plans, which includes very few whistle-blowers.
We cannot connive any more with establishment cover up.
The advocates of harmed patients must be at the centre of any scrutiny processes. They must be able to speak out strongly and honestly. Berwick’s report effectively urged this. We need to act on it.
I recently heard Henrietta Hughes say words to the effect that she wants good news stories about whistle-blowing. Any good news must come from robust evidence of real progress and genuine staff confidence, not spot lighting of anecdotes and only selected cases. We have all had enough of NHS spin.
Mere hope and aspiration, as I have heard Henrietta Hughes describe it, is not nearly enough. In fact it is worse than nothing. As it raises false hopes and is cover for continuing harm to too many.
Richard von Abendorff
If you’d like to contact Richard about his ongoing work or have questions about the above safety reporting portal, drop a line through the contact page on this website and it will be passed on.
1. New Employment Scheme (But not as you know it)
Published 19 December 2016
The National Guardian’s office is designed to be ineffective. The National Guardian has not reviewed any cases to our knowledge and the machinery for choosing cases will not be established until next year. Leaked information shows that there are few frontline whistleblowers invited to a crucial National Guardian consultation event on 20 January. The delegate list suggests that this is a largely corporate affair and thus likely to be remote from the harsh realities that staff experience on the ground.
2. Hot Air About Just Culture
Published 1 September 2016
This article argues that NHS cover ups are ultimately due to top down political pressure, and that whilst governments say they want to ensure NHS learning on safety issues, the NHS is managed in a bullying way by politicians, which encourages suppression and unfairness to patients and staff.
3. National Guardian: Tidings of comfort and joy
Letter to Henrietta Hughes 26 December 2016 about harmful good news culture in the NHS, and a request for clarity about how she intends to evaluate the state of whistleblowing governance in the NHS.