By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 24 October 2017
The National Freedom To Speak Up Guardian for NHS whistleblowing finally started establishing her advisory group in this last two months, but without proper advertisement.
This was despite her promise over a year ago that this advisory group would be pivotal in determining her case review process:
“She said the cases the office would look at would be decided by a “stakeholder advisory group”, which would include people with experience of whistleblowing.” 1
Clearly, as her case review process had already been finalised and launched in June 2017 and case reviews had already started in July 2017 , the advisory group was in reality little more than an afterthought.
Some whistleblowers who had previous contact with her office received individual invitations to apply for places on the advisory group, and some information appeared on her small section of the CQC website.
But it was not a truly open process with equal access for all. The whiff of a tokenism once more wafted down the corridors of 151 Buckingham Palace Rd.
Despite the National Guardian having informed me that numbers would be kept to a manageable level to make the group workable, everybody who applied has to my knowledge been accepted. And based on information from the National Guardian’s office, there were over twenty applications.
All manner of applications were received, from terse, one paragraph, take-it-or-leave-it-I’m-a-staunch-critic jobs to lengthy essays.
But eventually, there was one very significant application that was turned down.
Helen Rochester, a veteran whistleblower twice seriously harmed by the National Guardian’s employer and paymaster the CQC, was firmly barred by Henrietta Hughes.
Helen Rochester did not know about the advisory group, but recently wrote to the National Guardian to suggest that whistleblowers should be hired as a specialist type of Expert by Experience.
I suggested to the National Guardian that she allow Rochester to join her advisory group, and pointed out that the access to the group had not been properly advertised.
If anyone has vital, highly relevant insight into how thoroughly messed up the system is, and is ideal to speak on the advisory group, it is Rochester.
But the answer was No, based on the bureaucratic excuse that the deadline had passed, and the refusal has been rigidly maintained:
Obviously, this cannot have anything to do with the fact that Rochester made an Employment Tribunal claim against the CQC for complicity in whistleblower reprisal:
The National Guardian’s inflexible decision to leave Rochester in the cold is another big nail in the coffin of her office’s credibility.
Henrietta Hughes had already seriously failed Rochester and all other whistleblowers by ducking a clear answer about whether she would ensure that the CQC would audit its practice on whistleblower confidentiality.
Standing up to the CQC would have required the courage of a true whistleblower.
It is most unseemly that Hughes excludes Rochester when she should be going out of her way to embrace her, and thereby send a very clear message to the CQC that whistleblower reprisal by the most senior officials is particularly unacceptable.
Hughes has so far told us, via the ever-willing Health Service Journal that she ‘whistleblew’ about an individual’s parking practices. I can’t say I was tremendously moved by her account or that it was clear to me that it was actually whistleblowing in the accepted sense, as opposed to performance management duties expected of any manager.
No amount of cult of personality and spin – see the twitter hashtag #FTSU for the breathless tweets from the latest National Guardian conference on 19 October 2017 for examples – will compensate for lack of substance.
This was perhaps the most telling tweet from the National Guardian’s recent conference:
Hughes has now issued documents on the operation of her advisory group which in my view smack of secrecy and control:
There is great emphasis on ‘confidentiality’ under the guise of sensitivity. But as far as I am concerned, the advisory committee is a place of business with public accountability, not a support group. I reject any attempts to veil its proceedings under a cloud of faux paternalism.
I will also be seeking clarification about an impertinence by the National Guardian’s office through a demand that advisory group members:
“…act as champions for a positive Freedom To Speak Up culture in the NHS”
It is crass of well-fed bureaucrats to ask this of frontline whistleblowers who have bled, starved and walked over coals to protect patients.
It would be even worse if this is a demand that harmed whistleblowers must specifically endorse Robert Francis’ and the National Guardian’s particular vision of ‘positive’ culture.
The National Guardian gave an interview to the Times a year ago, claiming that poor NHS culture could be sorted out ‘just like that’ if doctors and nurses were less grumpy. This resulted in derisive press headlines such as: ‘Turn that frown upside down! Grumpy doctors and nurses are told to ‘cheer’ up to improve level of care and end a culture of bullying in the NHS’.
I also remind readers of the National Guardian’s Brave New World edict in her previous life as an NHS England Medical Director:
“While researching I came across the 10:5 rule – when someone comes within 10 feet – smile, within 5 feet – say hello.
“I have started SHINE and the 10:5 rule within my team in London and shared it across the Directorate.”
“S – smile
I – eye contact
E- enthusiasm/ Empathy”
Good manners and genuine respect are of course essential but such intrusive managerial demands are unacceptable, and impinge on the dignity of others.
Perhaps the National Guardian forgets that whistleblowers are now beyond such NHS managerial impositions, having been relieved of the employment relationship.
The National Guardian also seeks via her optimistically labelled document ‘Values and Expectations Agreement’ for her advisory group to banish ‘negative criticism’.
However, her ‘Agreement’ has not in fact been agreed by anyone.
I invite the National Guardian to stop all false positivity, patronising tone control and any censorship through misconceived application of confidentiality.
The advisory group has its first meeting on 3 November 2017. Based on the National Guardian’s office’s behaviour to date, the exercise will most likely be a shabby waste of whistleblowers’ time and energy.
But I intend to raise the issue of Helen Rochester’s exclusion at the meeting.
Letter to the Health Service Journal’s Patient Safety Correspondent
Letter to the Public Accounts Committee
Click to access letter-to-public-accounts-committee-11-sep-2017-re-review-of-whistleblowing.pdf
NEWSFLASH: CQC denies denial
1 Whistleblower Guardian will not be an investigation body, Will Hazel, HSJ 12 October 2016
6 thoughts on “CARRY ON SMILING: National Guardian Turns Helen Rochester Away”
Here is my own version of ‘Shine.’ It is specifically designed to offer hope to those who need it most.
When you discover one of your colleagues chortling at the distress of a helpless, vulnerable patient who is in extreme pain and your colleague is neglecting them if not worse: –
Smile at your colleague,
Note their name.
Throw them a left hook followed by a right uppercut.
Thus, both you and the patient will feel much better and will have been empowered to share and care with others.
The fundamental problem we have is that all of our institutions, including Parliament, seems to be based on bullying.
Furthermore, it is a one way affair. Top down only.
Thus, those at the top dictate down – as do each of the supporting levels. Inhabitants are trained to ignore, as much as possible, data coming from below, particularly if it is important.
It is a recipe for incompetence, if not, corruption.
We try to find hope in little niches that can try and operate, in part, away from the corrupt hierarchies.
To summarise, anyone who is moral and decent and intelligent will be viewed as an enemy, a disruptive element, someone not fitting in with the culture of inclusivity (notwithstanding the fact that the culture is but a hollowed out entity devoid of purpose other than to be self-serving and self-congratulating).
Thank you, as always, Dr. A.
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You are far more succinct I feel as I have only come up with CRAP campaign. It refers to C=coverup R= Reports A= Avarice P=Platitudes and believe me I have experienced them all.
SPOT ON!’To summarise, anyone who is moral and decent and intelligent will be viewed as an enemy, a disruptive element, someone not fitting in with the culture of inclusivity (notwithstanding the fact that the culture is but a hollowed out entity devoid of purpose other than to be self-serving and self-congratulating)’
‘Thank you, as always, Dr. A’.for being a caring, intelligent, moral human being……….no wonder their doors are closed to you.
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So sorry to hear you’ve had a rotten old time. Unfortunately, as you will know by now, you are far from being alone!
Sincerely hope you’ll keep standing and eventually will be rewarded in some way or another.
Wishing you well,
Nail on the head Zara in your last paragraph.
I wrote to the Henrietta Hughes on the 10th October 2017. I did not know at that point she was setting up an “advisory group” on whistleblowing issues.
I pointed out some very uncomfortable truths to her on how her employer handles whistleblowing complaints…..basically do nothing except discuss the WB with employers and then be complicit in reprisal. I pointed out very tactfully that she perhaps want to get them to put their own glass house in order and start auditing their procedures which are clearly failing before they pass judgement on this when inspecting other organisations. The CQC have some very impressive policy documents to hide behind when criticised as I have seen them.
Trying to make a positive suggestion for going forwards I suggested she might want to engage some people in her office who could be classed as “experts by experience” in whistle blowing issues. Normally the CQC are very keen to be seen to be using these when inspecting homes/hospitals.
She has obviously taken my concerns re her employer and my suggestion for improvement really seriously. I got a response from one of her staff saying I would be responded to “in due course”.
To date no written response at all from HH #FTSU but her actions in excluding me from her group says it all and I have got the message. Like all WB’s I have no real freedom to speak up and the unspoken message from the office of the national guardian is #STFU !
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It’s all so upsetting and so draining!
How on earth have we got to the situation that, those who are simply doing their job and abiding by the rules, are viewed as the enemy whilst those who are demonstrably unable to do their jobs or abide by any rules, are rewarded?
I have been following your journey and wish I could say I was surprised at the responses you have received. Or, to be more accurate, the lack of response.
I can only offer, what I hope are, two consolations. First, at least you know you are not alone. Not only WB in the caring professions suffer, but those within all of our institutions and those who have to deal with the incompetencies of our institutions. Public Relations’ guff and downright propaganda have replaced investigatory and management disciplines. People in authority would prefer to confect self-deluding stories rather than deal with the real world and actually address and solve problems like human beings used to do.
I am enraged that, after every shambles has erupted into public awareness, they always scrabble around to find and read out their self-protecting statement – ‘the safety and protection of the public is our top priority.’ This statement is the final insult as it is demonstrably as empty and useless as those responsible for it.
My second offering is that, I do believe in the workings of Karma. But, it sometimes takes much longer than we would wish to see the results. Nevertheless, however much stress and pain that we go through, I think it far better to be us than to be the cowardly and inadequate creatures who can but creep about as frauds within our society. It will catch up with them eventually.
Allow me to wish you as well as you can be (under the prevailing very silly circumstances!)
Its all about perception not reality sadly!
Reality is you are a caring. moral human being. You have risked much for the truth and I applaud your honesty, thank you!
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