By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 1 March 2020
February has been an unexpectedly busy month and so forgive me if this is short and not so sweet.
The Tories made political hay with the MidStaffs disaster, but defaulted on safe staffing. Health Secretaries Hunt and Hancock have paid lip service to the value of whistleblowers, but have permitted their destruction, and allowed impunity for reprisal.
In the last six years, hardly any referrals of NHS directors to the Care Quality Commission under Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons have resulted in findings of serious breach.
Here are some FPPR referrals on individuals/ trust boards who have been proven by courts or formal investigations to have harmed whistleblowers, but in response to which the CQC has found no breach or no serious breach of Regulation 5:
The board of Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust
These days, I make FPPR referrals less in expectation of an appropriate system response, but on a point of principle, to highlight failures and to maintain a proper record of concern and provide collective memory where the system fails.
A year ago Jo Williams the former Chair of the Care Quality Commission, whose leadership and treatment of whistleblowers was much criticised by the MidStaffs public inquiry and by MPs, was appointed as Chair of Alder Hey NHS Foundation Trust. Accordingly, I made an FPPR referral to CQC.
A year on, the CQC has predictably shut down the FPPR referral, declaring that Alder Hey’s FPPR process is “robust”. This is the trademark closure letter:
And who were Jo Williams’ referees for her appointment to the board of Alder Hey, first as a NED and then as Chair?
The great and the good – a past permanent secretary of the Department of Health and a past minister.
There were some indications that the former Permanent Secretary in question was Sir Christopher Kelly, now at the Kings Fund. I asked him to confirm, but I did not receive any response.
The NHS frontline and patients have little chance against such networks of embedded power and privilege, that defend their own no matter what.
This is amply demonstrated by today’s huge coverage by the Sunday Times of Dr Patricia Mill’s whistleblowing case at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, in Matt Hancock Secretary of State’s constituency.
Dr Patricia Mills Consultant Anaesthetist West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust whistleblower
In a nutshell, Dr Mills has been horribly persecuted for doing her duty as doctor to ensure that there was learning from the avoidable death and catastrophic harm respectively to two patients, Daniel Parsons and Paul Farmer, under the care of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.
Classically, trust executives have reframed her patient advocacy as unacceptable behaviour and set a protracted disciplinary process in motion.
The Trust CEO Steve Dunn was revealed by the Sunday Times to have behaved unpleasantly and unprofessionally at a meeting with Patricia Mills, with the trust minimising this behaviour as merely “tough”.
“The chief executive is alleged to have angrily demanded to know why she had written the letter to the chairman of the board and accused her of undermining Dr Nick Jenkins, the medical director, on patient safety issues. Dunn is said to have asked: “You think I’m an arsehole, don’t you?” and Mills to have replied: “Yes, I do at this moment.”
It seems that trust executives were especially threatened by Dr Mills because as part of fulfilling her GMC obligations, she questioned the Medical Director’s response to the avoidable death and harm. For example:
“A source said Mills claimed to have raised the issue with Jenkins on five occasions and had been disappointed that there had only been a perfunctory investigation.”
Patricia Mills is one of the doctors who was placed under huge pressure by the trust to provide fingerprints and a handwriting sample during a later whistleblower witch hunt.
A former trust clinical director Dr Jon Cardy has told the Sunday Times that a number of doctors have informed him of oppressive trust management, to the point that two doctors have been suicidal. The reported mistreatment of staff according to Dr Cardy has included subjecting doctors to formal investigations after whistleblowing.
In the meantime, Matt Hancock Health Secretary and local MP told the local press that everything had been handled “entirely appropriately.”
And as if she has not suffered enough already, Dr Patricia Mills was run over two weeks ago whilst walking her dog down a country lane, requiring hospital treatment.
As a country we are sliding into very unpleasant political territory, with attacks on press freedom, other portents of authoritarianism and increasingly brazen unaccountability for the powerful.
There will be difficult times ahead for whistleblowers, and it may be wise to expect less of officialdom and already fragile official mechanisms for reporting and redress. This government is already openly attacking some whistleblowers:
Cycles repeat. Twenty years ago, this is what Australian campaigners were finding:
Stay safe and look after each other.