By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 23 May 2017
It was as expected, but still shocking.
The CQC has finally produced its responses to Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Person (FPPR) referrals that were made over a year ago, on two NHS directors found to have mistreated whistleblowers.
The referred directors were David Loughton CEO of the Royal Wolverhampton NHS trust – who needs little introduction amongst whistleblowers 1 2 3 4 – and Adrienne Murphy Director of Human Resources at Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and former Director of Workforce at South Devon.
Loughton was referred for a longstanding pattern of behaviour towards whistleblowers, and related Verita findings from an investigation of Loughton’s trust, in which Loughton’s conduct was specifically criticised. 5
Murphy was referred after she was recycled by the NHS, despite being criticised by an Employment Tribunal (ET) for bullying whistleblowers. 6
Murphy’s attempt to silence whistleblowers is described by the South Devon ET Judgment7:
The ET concluded that Murphy had subjected the whistleblowers to detriment, and that this detriment was due to the fact that they had blown the whistle.
However, the CQC has now cemented its appalling record on FPPR through disingenuous claims that the demands of FPPR have been satisfied in both Loughton and Murphy’s cases:
The NHS establishment’s protection of David Loughton has been quite extraordinary. It is exemplified by the Deloitte report commissioned by NHS Improvement, it seems, to clean up the embarrassment caused by Verita’s frankness. Deloitte did not even manage a slap on the wrist for Loughton – just a mild suggestion that he should ‘reflect’ on his ‘style’:
“However, there is undoubtedly scope for the CEO to give further reflection to the impact his personal style can occasionally have on those around him.”8
In its above FPPR closure letter about about Loughton, the CQC clings to this Deloitte report. A question arises about whether CQC delayed in its response to the FPPR referral on Loughton in order to benefit from Deloitte’s very convenient findings.
CQC’s FPPR closure letter about Murphy reveals that the CQC relied on the trust’s own investigations.
This is not only laughable, but inconsistent. The CQC has in the past rejected another trust’s internal FPPR review and demanded external, independent review – but perhaps because they knew that particular case was weak and would be damaging to whistleblowers.
In contrast in the Murphy case, it is hard not to conclude that the CQC resisted sunlight because they knew they were dealing with a genuine, proven case of whistleblower reprisal.
And wouldn’t you know it, but the CQC ‘forgot’ to send me both the outcomes to the Loughton and Murphy FPPRs – the former concluded in February this year, and the latter in November last year. They have only responded now because of a complaint about the delay.
That makes it a total of THREE times on which the CQC has skulked about in the shadows and ‘forgotten’ to send me FPPR outcomes. Last year, CQC ‘forgot’ to declare that Mike Richards Chief Inspector of Hospitals had closed an FPPR referral on Paula Vasco-Knight – shortly before she had to be sacked by the NHS due to charges of fraud. 9
And it is said sometimes that three makes a pattern.
Unfortunately, I do not expect any better from the CQC. It is a laughing stock and a failure on all fronts.
What now remains to be seen is how the National Guardian responds to this continuing failure on FPPR.
When I last spoke to her, she seemed reluctant to confront the ugly side of whistleblowing failures, and preferred to speak instead of ‘improvement culture’ and ‘support’ for organisations to do better. 10
Nevertheless, she recently published written answers to questions raised at a national conference for Speak Up Guardians on 8 March 2017, in which she finally acknowledged indelicate terms such as ‘serious misconduct’:
In response to questions about how she would handle serious misconduct by those who mistreat whistleblowers, she gave this assurance:
“Where evidence of serious misconduct is identified, for example through the case review process, this information will be shared with regulators who are able to take appropriate actions as a result.”
Given the now all too familiar and well known regulatory failures to hold abusers to account, I wrote to Henrietta Hughes to ask what provision she has made for instances in which regulators defy her, and resist appropriate action.
It is part of the National Guardian’s job description to hold the whole system to account including implausibly, the central bodies that fund her office, employ her and line manage her.
I don’t expect to be reassured, but whatever the answer, it will be interesting.
In truth, the National Guardian’s office is simply a government device for delaying what needs to be done. Current UK whistleblowing structures and law are designed to be ineffective and need to be replaced, but this is fiercely resisted.
I leave you with two quotes from whistleblowers who have suffered under Loughton and Murphy’s management:
Prof David Ferry, Royal Wolverhampton whistleblower, to BBC File on Four, broadcast 7 February 2017:
“Things were deteriorating, and after a particularly difficult day in the department, there was a lot of upset and that night, when I went to my car, there was a sticker on my car that said ‘Death to the bastard Geordie whistle-blower.’” 11
It should be noted that CQC have ridden to Loughton’s rescue before, by falsely claiming in a CQC inspection report that controversial oncology treatment provided by Loughton’s trust was standard when it was not. When David Ferry challenged CQC’s inspection report, Mike Richards claimed that CQC had merely made a typographical error. 11
Clare Sardari South Devon whistleblower , who along with Penny Gates raised the alarm about Paula Vasco-Knight’s nepotism. This is Clare Sardari’s response to the CQC FPPR closure letter:
“So, the ET Judge and panel got it all wrong and Adrienne Murphy is as pure as driven snow! And, of course, CQC are happy with that – all done and dusted. We have one totally Fit and Proper HR and Org Development Director who is now off scot-free.”
“ She had Penny’s and my life in her hands and she literally stuck the dagger in our back”
Clare Sardari tweets at @SardariClare
But then, according to the CQC, ruining perfectly innocent people’s lives, placing patients in harm’s way and wasting public resources through totally unnecessary litigation and discarding expensively trained staff is NOT serious misconduct.
I wonder what is.
1 Raj Mattu and the death of whistleblowing. Dr Phil Hammond, Private Eye issue 1364 May 2014
2 Branded a rapist for daring to be a whistleblower: How brave cardiologist sacked for exposing needless deaths was smeared as sex attacker by bosses. Rebecca Hardy Daily Mail 11 February 2016
3 Probe launched into NHS chief who blew £6m to get rid of whistleblowers as minister pledges to protect workers who speak out, Paul Bentley and Daniel Martin Daily Mail, 8 March 2014
4 Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital Cancer scandal: Cleared after four year fight! Victory for NHS whistleblower, Express and Star 18 January 2016
6 Senior hospital manager resigns following ex-Plymouth health chief ‘nepotism’ storm. Plymouth Herald. 22 August 2014.
7 ET Judgment Sardari and Gates v South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust
8 Deloitte report of review on leadership and governance at Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, 9 November 2016
9 CQC: A Chief Inspector doesn’t call, Minh Alexander 27 January 2017
10 Agreed records of meetings with National Guardian 23 January 2017 and 2 February 2017
11 Transcript of BBC File on Four broadcast on whistleblowing, 7 February 2017