In 2014, shortly after publication of the Midstaffs public inquiry, Jeremy Hunt came under mounting pressure to improve the NHS’ handling of whistleblowing.
He commissioned Robert Francis to conduct the Freedom To Speak Up Review, which made weak recommendations and was totally silent about the nature of the concerns which whistleblowers had reported to the Review.
Robert Francis later indicated through correspondence that most of the evidence submitted to the Review was destroyed.
Francis and the government devised a publicity tool called the Freedom To Speak Up model, which made it look as if something was being done, when nothing was done at all:
Henrietta Hughes, former Medical Director of NHS England London, the National Freedom To Speak Up Guardian sits at the head of the project. She has helped those proven to have harmed whistleblowers to launder reputation. For example, David Loughton CEO of Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, who has been found by an investigation to have harmed a whistleblower and has been criticised in several other whistleblower cases, tweeted this smiling image of a visit by Hughes:
Similarly, Henrietta Hughes visited West Suffolk NHS Foundation NHS Trust in January 2018 and praised their speaking up culture when in reality it was failing badly, and was criticised by the CQC. Just a few months after her visit, the trust launched a whistleblower witch hunt and demanded fingerprints and handwriting samples from its staff as part of the witch hunt:
The latest example of National Guardian-assisted spin is at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, where highly controversial former Post Office Ltd CEO Paula Vennells is now billeted.
Paula Vennells led Post Office Ltd between 2012 and 2019, in which time wrongful prosecutions of subpostmasters continued when the real problem was glitches in Post Office Ltd’s Horizon IT system. During her tenure, the denial of the wrongful prosecutions was maintained. Many millions of public money was wasted making subpostmasters and their families suffer even more. In December 2019 the High Court reached a damning conclusion against Post Office Ltd and its cover up of its Horizon IT failures.
The key Post Office court judgments and documents are all available here at the website of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, led by Alan Bates: jfsa.org.uk
This Private Eye podcast with Nick Wallis a journalist who has doggedly covered the Post Office trial in depth is an engaging and informative, if horrifying, listen:
Karl Flinders at Computer Weekly has also covered the Horizon IT scandal for years, and his frequent update reports all carry a very moving, ever growing chronology of all the years passed:
As the Post Office Trial by 550 subpostmasters against Post Office Ltd hotted up, Vennells was given a golden parachute out in early 2019. The NHS was abused as one of the designated evac landing strips, as was the Cabinet Office board. The regulator NHS Improvement was directly responsible for her appointment as Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust chair, because the trust is non-foundation.
Fit and Proper Person referrals have been made to the CQC, the relevant health regulator, about Vennell’s appointment to Imperial’s board.
The scandal rages on with ever growing pressure at Westminster for a public inquiry as more MPs learn about the scandal and are horrified.
And what does the National Guardian do?
She rushed in as a supporting act at a the first ever Patient Safety conference held by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust on 24 February 2020, to lend some superficial governance cachet.
Disgracefully, Hughes peddled some selective anecdotes from her appalling ‘100 Voices’ campaign last year. This consisted of the naked manufacture of Good News by pleading with NHS trust Guardians to send in stories of success.
That’s right. You heard right. Henrietta Hughes a senior public servant, a doctor registered with the General Medical Council and a doctor trained in the proper, ethical handling of evidence sent out a communiqué for only positive results from the trial that is the Freedom To Speak Up project. Imagine what would happen if a senior doctor publicly did that with trials on a new drug.
Using these third hand accounts given by employer bodies, about what whistleblowers are purportedly supposed to have said, Hughes gave Imperial staff the impression that it is now safer to speak up and culture change is happening:
That’s in a trust led by Paula Vennells, Queen of Denial and Post Office Ltd chief who presided over what the High Court has lambasted as “extremely aggressive” and “attritional” legal tactics, that whittled away the real value of the compensation upon which harmed subpostmasters were so dependent.
How irresponsible and uncaring could Hughes be?
But it is not the first time by a country mile that Hughes has manufactured Good News.
A complaint has recently led to an NHS Improvement recommendation that her Office should take greater care to evidence its public claims. More of that another time.
Adding to the dubious governance motif, a much feted speaker at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust was from British Airways:
British Airways has just been exposed for blacklisting whistleblowers:
“British Airways’ Chief Exec told managers to “screen” potential whistleblowers and avoid hiring them after one raised safety concerns about its planes.
CEO Alex Cruz sent an email containing the explosive remarks after a BA employee claimed unsafe practices put passengers in danger.”
To top it all, Vennells herself appeared at the Imperial safety conference on 24 February 2020 and was quoted as emphasising the importance of……..systems that work, and of kindness:
I am incapable of any further comment at this point.
Pass the Persil.
Referral of Paula Vennells CBE Chair of Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust, former Post Office Ltd CEO, under CQC Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons (FPPR). But what was the government’s role in the Post Office scandal?