Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant 14 October 2017
On 21 January 2015 the parliamentary Health Committee advised Jeremy Hunt to ensure that harmed NHS whistleblowers should receive an ‘apology and practical redress’. 1
On 11 February 2015 Robert Francis recommended in his report of the Freedom To Speak Up Review that as a minimum, sacked and exiled NHS whistleblowers should be urgently provided with support to return to NHS employment, including trial employment. 2
“7.3.8 Beyond that, I believe that there is an urgent need for an employment support scheme for NHS staff and former staff who are having difficulty finding employment in the NHS who can demonstrate that this is related to having made protected disclosures and that there are no outstanding issues of justifiable and significant concern relating to their performance. This should be devised and run jointly by NHS England, the NHS Trust Development Authority and Monitor. As a minimum, it should provide:
• remedial training or work experience for registered healthcare professionals who have been away from the workplace for long periods of time
• advice and assistance in relation to applications for appropriate employment in the NHS
• the development of a ‘pool’ of NHS employers prepared to offer trial employment to persons being supported through the scheme
• guidance to employers to encourage them to consider a history of having raised concerns as a positive characteristic in a potential employee.” 2
Over two years later, the Department of Health and its organs are still leading harmed whistleblowers a not so merry dance, making whistleblowers jump through bureaucratic hoops for the privilege of little more than employment coaching services, with profits going to an outsourced supplier. 3 4 5
There is no trial employment on offer, despite the DH’s attempts to spin otherwise through willing helpers. 6
Yet it has emerged that behind the scenes, NHS Improvement made a special arrangement months ago to help secure a sacked NHS whistleblower a job, no red tape involved whatsoever.
Jim Mackey has been asked to account for this blatant inconsistency and to ensure that other whistleblowers receive equal access:
In the meantime, NHS England’s pilot Employment Support Scheme, which attracted only eight applicants, is coming up for evaluation.
A request led to this update from NHS England on 8 September, about a proposed evaluation by Liverpool John Moores University:
NHS England did not give full details of the proposed evaluation methodology, I therefore asked Liverpool John Moores University for more information.
Limited detail was provided, but this draft list of proposed interview questions was shared:
I asked for all of my request to be processed. The university then closed its doors:
It did not make any specific technical case for secrecy but simply claimed that disclosure would prejudice the outcome of the evaluation.
NHS England purports to promote co-production:
“1.3 Co-production: What this looks like for people
- People with lived experience have an equal status with practitioners to influence key decisions.” 7
It specifically promised on 8 September to involve whistleblowers in designing its evaluation:
“The evaluation will engage directly with stakeholders to explore both the process of developing the pilot and the utility of the support to clients. Because of the involvement of stakeholders it is particularly important that they feel valued as partners. The evaluation will therefore be done with participants (not imposed ‘on’ them) ensuring they have a say in determining the aims and objectives of the pilot and its evaluation.”
It is important that whistleblowers can see exactly what the university proposes to do, including its ethical controls, as this is sensitive work. There were already concerns arising from a presentation by the lead researcher at an event by NHS Improvement on 22 September. This is because there was an implication that whistleblowers’ personal data might be sought from confidential coaching services purchased for whistleblowers, and it had to be clarified by whistleblowers and the service supplier that such data was off limits.
I have therefore asked NHS England to keep its word and to intervene:
It would be ironic if research aimed at delivering Mr Hunt’s ‘Plans to end cover up culture in the NHS’ 8 is beyond scrutiny.
Almost as ironic as this recent refusal by Jim Mackey to provide much of the data sought by an FOI request about NHS Improvement’s scheme, and his decision to withhold an NCAS paper relating to the scheme.
Laughably, both NHS Improvement and NHS England have also surreptitiously tweaked the names of their programmes from ‘Whistleblower Employment Support Service’ to just ‘Whistleblower Support Service’:
That’s a big clue.
It is irresponsible of the DH et al to mistreat whistleblowers who have been through so much, many of whom still bear the serious health consequences of their ordeals.
As Health Committee acknowledged, this spectacle of un-rectified injustice damages patient safety culture:
“114. The failure to deal appropriately with the consequences of cases where staff have sought protection as whistleblowers has caused people to suffer detriment, such as losing their job and in some cases being unable to find similar employment. This has undermined trust in the system’s ability to treat whistleblowers with fairness. This lack of confidence about the consequences of raising concerns has implications for patient safety”
Health Committee, Complaints and Raising Concerns, 21 January 2015
But perhaps that’s the idea.
At the NHS Improvement Soup Kitchen
1 Complaints and Raising Concerns. Health Committee 21 January 2015
2 Report of the Freedom to Speak Up Review
3 At the NHS Improvement Soup Kitchen
4 NHS failing whistleblowers with return-to-work plan, Kat Lay, The Times, 21 August 2017
5 NHS Improvement whistleblowers’ support scheme launch September 2017
6 NHS trusts to offer whistleblowers trial employment, Shaun Lintern, Health Service Journal 26 September 2017
7 Co-production. NHS England June 2017
8 Plans to end the cover up culture in the NHS, Department of Health 9 March 2016