By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 12 March 2017
Henrietta Hughes the latest National Freedom To Speak Guardian for NHS whistleblowing has been in post for over four months. She has held many roadshows and spoken at several conferences. But she has not yet reviewed any whistleblower cases. She announced at a conference on 8 March 2017 that she will only review twenty cases a year. 1
This restriction of capacity will be unfair to whistleblowers, as will her other policy proposals if they are not amended. For example, the National Guardian has proposed that she will not accept cases for review if an employer has not responded to a whistleblower’s concerns. This is quite bizarre because a classic employer tactic is to ignore whistleblowers. It is a governance failing that should add to the case for review by the National Guardian. For a fuller account of the all the problems with the National Guardian’s policy proposals, see:
Henrietta Hughes’ office is jointly funded to the tune of £1 million by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), NHS Improvement and NHS England. Her office is located within the CQC.
David Behan CQC chief executive is the Accountable Officer for the National Guardian and she has met with him frequently since taking up post, but maintained that this is to report on progress, and not about objective setting. CQC and the National Guardian claim that she is independent. 2 3
I wrote to all three chief executives of the CQC, NHS England and NHS Improvement to raise concerns about the flaws in the National Guardian’s policy proposals, and about the following advice given to a current whistleblower by her office:
“… the National Guardian’s Office is not able to intervene in the personal circumstances of individuals”
This is a response from David Behan of 9 March 2017, which is purportedly a joint response from all three chief executives:
Behan’s letter stresses that Henrietta Hughes will not intervene in individual cases:
“The NGO’s [National Guardian’s office] stance on not intervening in individual cases is in keeping with the outcome of this public consultation”
This is despite the fact that Francis set out a clear intention in his report of the Freedom To Speak Up Review February 2015 that the National Guardian’s core role was to challenge organisations to “look again” at whistleblower cases, where it appeared that concerns had not been well handled, or where staff who raised concerns appeared to suffer detriment. 4
I also question Behan’s claims about the CQC consultation in question. 5
Moreover, Behan’s letter is at variance to Simon Stevens’ past correspondence to Francis, in which Stevens stressed that whistleblowers needed “safe harbour”:
The National Guardian cannot provide any semblance of safe harbour if she does not even challenge employers to look again at badly handled cases.
To rule out any misunderstanding, I have asked Behan to specifically clarify whether it is his understanding that the National Guardian will be implementing Francis’ recommendation to challenge employers to look again at individual cases that she has reviewed, which appear to have been badly handled.
Don’t hold your breath.
1 National Guardian et al: “Fantastic”…or airbrushed fantasy? Minh Alexander 7 March 2017
2 National Guardian independence: The CQC denies some more. Minh Alexander 19 January 2017
3 Newspeak at the National Guardian’s office. Minh Alexander 8 February 2017
4 Robert Francis’ report of the Freedom To Speak Up Review February 2015
“He/she [the National Guardian] would not take on the investigation of cases themselves, but would challenge or invite others to look again at cases and would need sufficient authority to ensure that any recommendations made were taken seriously and acted upon.”
“7.6.17 The INO would in essence fulfil a role at a national level similar to the role played by effective Freedom to Speak Up Guardians locally. They would not take on cases themselves, but could challenge or invite others to look into cases which did not appear to have been handled in line with good practice or where it appeared that a person raising a concern had experienced detriment as a result of raising the concern.”
5 Improvement through openness. CQC consultation report about the role of the National Guardian. May 2016