By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 19 January 2017
Alyson O’Connell is an NHS whistleblower, nurse and cancer patient with experience to offer.
She also needs just £26 to pay for a coach ticket from Wales to London.
She is attending the National Freedom to Speak Up Guardian’s consultation event on Friday 20th January, to contribute to discussions on how an advisory group should be established.
She is paying out of her own pocket to make this long journey by coach, in mid winter.
O’Connell was initially told by the National Guardian’s office that the event was only about the English NHS, and she was deterred from taking part.
She pointed out that Robert Francis had accepted her evidence for the Freedom To Speak Up Review, that NHS England had recently involved her in the development of its whistleblower employment support scheme, and that her contribution would be relevant.
A place was then offered…but she was told she would have to pay her own travel expenses.
She asked the National Guardian’s office to reconsider, and advised that she needed the princely sum of £26 to cover her coach fare, but the National Guardian’s office has not so far acquiesced.
This is the email correspondence: emails
O’Connell was dismissed by the NHS seven years ago after whistleblowing about patient safety risks:
She survived for a while on agency work, but says her former employer refused to let her work shifts for them.
She has been unemployed for five years whilst battling pancreatic cancer.
There have been periods of severe financial hardship, and she and her husband still live with uncertainty about whether they can meet their mortgage payments.
O’Connell says that unlike the National Guardian office, NHS England was more generous when she contributed to the development of its employment support scheme:
“NHS England booked and paid for all my rail travel and overnight accommodation with breakfast included. All I had to do was collect the rail tickets.”
So, is it wise of the National Guardian’s office to insist that ‘rules is rules’?
Many whistleblowers cannot make the National Guardian’s event due to the short notice given. The National Guardian’s travel expense budget is unlikely to be creaking.
£26 is not even a hiccup in the CQC’s £200m plus budget.
£26 for a long distance coach journey is not luxury.
In contrast, CQC officers are used to commodious conditions and they are not strangers to nice hotels on the public tab.    
Will the great public service that O’Connell performed in speaking up, at immense personal cost, be at least recognised by the very small token of reimbursing her tiny coach fare?
It’s not the money – although it’s an expense that O’Connell doesn’t need – it’s about respect and valuing people.
UPDATE 21 JANUARY 2017
Alyson O’Connell spent over eight hours travelling from Wales to contribute to Henrietta Hughes’ consultation event on 20th January, which was a scant two hour slot.
Seven of those hours travelling were spent on a coach. Not comfortable for anyone, but worse for someone in fragile health.
She reports that Henrietta Hughes has decided not to contribute a token of £26 for the coach fare.
“She said that she wished that the NGO could pay my expenses but as Wales not included it wasn’t possible and was very apologetic.”
It is a great pity that the National Guardian is not showing more flexibility. Her role is complex and requires a great deal of insight, skill and judgment.
It is unlikely to work if it does not include some wisdom about when “rules is NOT rules”.
 NHS watchdog staff put up in luxury hotels, stately homes and country houses. Laura Donnelly Telegraph 16 November 2015
 NHS watchdog’s £81K hotel bill for a single inspection: Freedom law reveals officials’ extravagance. Sophie Borland 16 November 2015
 CQC health watchdog racked up £123,000 hotel bill whilst inspecting NHS organisations in Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk. Andrew Hirst. East Anglian Daily Times, 8 February 2016.
 NHS watchdog spent over £5 million on hotels and accommodation last year. Keir Mudie. Mirror 7 May 2016