By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 4 January 2020
The government’s strategy on NHS whistleblowing scandals has been to manage the news but not to manage the problem.
Accordingly, for the last week the NHS denial machine has been revving hard to publicise the government’s dubious award of an OBE to Henrietta Hughes the National Guardian for services to the NHS.
NHS England, NHS Improvement, CQC, PHSO, NMC, GMC and BMA have led the faux cheerleading to spin a story of achievement. Ambitious acolytes have paid their careerist taxes in fawning tribute.
There is no evidence that the National Guardian has genuinely improved NHS whistleblowing governance. But there is plenty of evidence of continuing serious detriment to NHS whistleblowers
In 2014, Jeremy Hunt, former Health Secretary and Spinner In Chief commissioned thepolitical theatre of the watered down Freedom To Speak Up Review by the then recently knighted Robert Francis.
Some questioned if the knighthood was a reward for the dilution of the MidStaffs public inquiry:
Francis’ Freedom To Speak Up Review report was a compromised effort, with many loopholes in employers’ favour.
But he managed a few words on ensuring redress of detriment, recommending that the National Guardian should help to ensure redress.
Since then, the Department of Health and Social Care and its arms length bodies which fund and control the National Guardian’s Office have done their best to erase this inconvenient detail. Their policy documents were written to focus instead on vague culture change, instead of any practical help and protection for whistleblowers. And the National Guardian has toed this political line:
However, in a rash moment her Office promised in 2017 to recommend the reinstatement of unfairly sacked whistleblowers.
There has been no sign that it has done so.
I have written to the National Guardian as below to ask if the promise will be made good.
Dr Minh Alexander
Dr Henrietta Hughes
Care Quality Commission
4 January 2020
National Guardian’s remit for helping to redress harm suffered by whistleblowers
I write to re-visit an undertaking by Russell Parkinson, your Head of Office (copied below) which was given in response to a letter to you.
It relates to the recommendation by Robert Francis in his report of the Freedom To Speak Up Review that your Office should help ensure:
“redress to any patients or staff harmed by any failure to address the safety risk”.
In response to my question to you of 18 April 2017:
“….may I ask if (and if so, how) the National Guardian’s office will intervene by challenging employers who appear to have dismissed whistleblowers as an act of reprisal,”
Russell replied on 5 May 2017:
“Where a case review finds evidence that a whistleblower has been dismissed inappropriately, we will make recommendations that action is taken, as appropriate. This may include recommending that the employer reinstates the worker concerned.”
Since then, I have not been aware of any case in which the National Guardian has recommended the reinstatement of a whistleblower who has been unfairly sacked.
Rather, I have been aware of subsequent advice from your Office to whistleblowers that it cannot intervene in employment disputes.
Congruent with this, your published advice explicitly states thats you will not conduct a case review if there are outstanding employment processes:
“The NGO will not review cases where….There are outstanding decisions to be made in the case, such as an on-going employment tribunal”
To my knowledge, your case review reports have not featured recommendations for redress of detriment suffered by individual whistleblowers, and have focused on generic governance issues.
1. Please can you advise if your Office will stand by its 2017 promise to recommend the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed whistleblowers?
Andrew Smith NHS whistleblower and trade union representative was found by an Employment Tribunal to have been unfairly dismissed by Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust.
Would you recommend a whistleblower’s reinstatement, if they so desired it, on the basis of such legal findings of fact?
2. I am aware of whistleblowers proven to have been unfairly dismissed who have not been accepted by your Office for case review.
Can you advise if your Office has accepted any unfairly dismissed whistleblowers, or whistleblowers who tell you that they have been unfairly dismissed, for case review?
If so, has your Office recommended the reinstatement of any of these unfairly dismissed whistleblowers, and were the recommendations accepted by employers?
Dr Minh Alexander
There is no shortage of evidence of National Guardian failure. Here are just a few of the items:
Fake government firewalls against whistleblowers, such as the unspeakable National Guardian’s Office, must be swept away and replaced with real protection: