By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 5 April 2018
On 22 February 2018 I reported that I had asked NHS Improvement (NHSI) to better meet the needs of gagged whistleblowers who are unable to access the NHS whistleblower employment support scheme, such as it is.
I shared the correspondence with NHSI’s new Chair, Dido Harding, in which I asked her to:
- Indemnify any gagged whistleblowers who decide to apply to the scheme, and take the risk of breaking gags in order to give the required account of themselves, on the basis of NHSI’s assurances that former employers will not pursue them.
- Seek a government waiver for gagged NHS whistleblowers, which I believe is a safer option.
The answer to both requests was subsequently ‘no’.
But NHSI has amended the wording of its correspondence to trusts, asking them about whether they would pursue whistleblowers who broke gags for the purposes of applying to the employment scheme.
Unfortunately, I cannot share this amended wording as NHSI has now gagged that data thus:
However, it does not seem to me that NHSI’s new wording will make any difference.
This is the correspondence to date with Dido Harding:
Moreover, it has come to light that NHS Improvement has required panellists, who decide on whether whistleblowers’ applications to the whistleblower employment support scheme will be accepted, to sign a ‘confidentiality undertaking’ that includes a ban on contact with the press unless it is approved by NHSI’s Chief Spinner:
“I hereby acknowledge that I am subject to a duty of confidentiality with respect to this activity (and any other associated work I undertake for NHS Improvement), and undertake not to disclose, otherwise than with the consent of NHS Improvement or in the proper discharge of my duties within the office of NHS Improvement, confidential information to which I have had access or information which has been communicated to me in confidence within the office of NHS Improvement or received in confidence from others.
I further acknowledge that this duty of confidentiality does not cease on any termination of the provision by me of services to NHS Improvement.
I understand that NHS Improvement has strict rules about breaches of confidentiality and my attention has been drawn to the office rules and policies of NHS Improvement on the intranet with respect to confidentiality, conflicts of interest and data protection including the ‘Information and Data Handling’ and ‘Procurement’ policies (which have been supplied with this undertaking).
I will not speak to the press regarding any activity undertaken at NHS Improvement without prior consent from the Executive Director of Strategic Communications and/or the Director of Media Relations. I understand that any press enquiries (telephone or email) should be forwarded immediately upon receipt to the Media Relations Director or the Media Relations Managers and that I should not respond to them under any circumstances, except where there has been explicit prior agreement from the Media Relations team.”
NHS Improvement’s Director of Comms is Tim Jones, formerly of the Department of Health, and part of the glittering success that was Jeremy Hunt’s Just Culture Task Force.
It may be a small point to some, but in the context of the whistleblower employment support scheme, it would have been good practice for NHSI to make it clear that this confidentiality undertaking does not restrict public interest disclosures.
One whistleblower who was accepted as a scheme panellist asked for the wording of the confidentiality undertaking to be changed, to make it clear that public interest disclosures are not restricted. NHSI refused to do so on that occasion, on the basis that all the other panellists had signed the same undertaking, but said it might consider adding such a qualifying clause in future.
NHSI has in fact advised via FOIA that it makes a similar requirement of all employees, consultants and contractors.
These are NHSI policies disclosed along with the substantive FOI response:
Mum’s the word.