Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 30 August 2017
The Department of Health’s denial machine speeds on despite occasional reports of its demise.
Good news stories, synthetic totems and ready made ‘radicals’ are its stock in trade.
For example, NHSIQ do a notable line in manufactured cool:
Notwithstanding, whistleblowers are unimpressed with NHSIQ’s exhortations to ‘rock the boat but not too much’. It is an unhelpful demonisation of serious dissent.
The NHS Just Culture Task Force was another faux DH attempt at creating a ‘movement’, and was announced in January. It came with a folksy looking blogsite for added authenticity. It proclaimed its existence and an initial, core membership.
However, the task force flopped quickly when questions were asked about the status of the project and issues of inclusivity, administration and accountability. Most of the information posted on line about the project was removed. There has been no visible activity since.
Since then, the Department of Health has behaved quite ludicrously in response to an FOI about the establishment of the Just Culture Task Force, including Jeremy Hunt’s role in the matter. The DH has failed to answer some of the questions and resisted for months a request for internal review of its FOI response. Departmental staff have appeared embarrassed and were very apologetic about successive delays and repeatedly missed deadlines.
“I apologise profusely for the length of time it has taken to carry out your requested internal review into the handling of FOI 1069346”
Eventually, I copied the FOI correspondence to Hunt’s office to put staff out of their misery. An internal review response has now finally been provided. As suspected, there is a refusal to provide more information. This is on the grounds that it may prejudice the conduct of public affairs – a catch all that is some times used when senior officials and politicians simply do not want to be embarrassed.
“We have considered the request again and I can confirm that DH has carried out searches for information within a broader interpretation of the scope of your request and has now identified a number of emails which relate to the establishment of the Just Culture Taskforce, its terms of reference and selection of its members. However, we consider these emails to be exempt from disclosure under Section 36 (2)(b)(i) and (ii) and (c) – prejudice to the conduct of public affairs.”
The DH has retreated to this bunker before and has been reprimanded by the ICO on some occasions for the groundless use of this exemption.
But the refusal to disclose tells me all I need to know about the nature of this project, so I won’t trouble the ICO, who have enough on their hands.
The lack of visible, development activity since January suggests that the DH may be hoping that the Just Culture Task Force ‘movement’ will fade from memory and not cause the Minister too much more embarrassment. Indeed, one of the DH officials originally associated with the project has since moved to NHS Improvement.
Nevertheless, the DH gamely insists in its latest correspondence that it will properly engage whistleblowers and NHS staff in work on the Just Culture Task Force – but just not now:
“Our work on Just Culture is born out of the recommendation of the Expert Advisory Group for the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch to set up a Just Culture Task Force to support the whole healthcare system to move towards a just culture of safety. The policy for taking this forward is still under development and any discussions and policy thinking are therefore exempt for the reasons set out above. However, our intention is that whistle-blowers and NHS staff will be properly engaged in this work.”
Not very radical at all it seems.
These are the key elements of the FOI correspondence with the DH about the Just Culture Task Force:
FOI request 23 January 2017
DH response 17 February 2017
Request for internal review of DH’s FOI response
DH internal review response 30 August 2017