By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 24 September 2020
It is now very clear that the government’s five year old Freedom To Speak Up project, on culture change in the NHS, is an an expensive flop.
It is expensive not only in terms of direct costs of
- Operating a National Guardian’s Office that has neither powers nor appetite to challenge power and to genuinely protect frontline whistleblowers
- Employing hundreds of frontline staff as local Freedom To Speak Up Guardians in NHS trusts, when good trusts do not need them and bad trusts will ignore and or victimise them
- Running glossy campaigns, events and conferences to promote a false narrative that it is safe to whistleblow in the NHS
but most importantly, the Freedom To Speak Up project is unaffordably expensive in terms of lives avoidably lost, avoidable harm suffered by patients and the cruel persecution of whistleblowers to silence them.
Byline Times, part of our much needed independent media, is running a series on whistlebowing.
It started with this rare and precious coverage of why UK whistleblowing policy is so poor, the inconceivably dangerous gaps in our whistleblowing legislation and the fact that we will not benefit from the EU Whistleblowing Directive after Brexit:
Today, Byline Times has published a damning investigation of a serious failure by the National Guardian’s Office and NHS regulators to act on intelligence that NHS trust managers tampered with an investigation report and other matters:
A diligent NHS whistleblower ended up with a cardiac pacemaker after an ordeal in which he received no real help from the National Guardian’s Office (NGO) , NHS Improvement, the Care Quality Commission and the General Medical Council, despite raising such serious concerns.
In contrast, the National Guardian got an OBE in the New Years Honours list.
In essence, the NGO bent its own rules and procedures in order to keep a lid on whistleblower reprisal and cover up by an NHS trust that it had previously reviewed. NGO arbitrarily allowed the erring managers of the trust extra time to improve, despite being made aware by the whistleblower of continuing corrupt practices.
Most likely, this was a self interested manoeuvre because to publicly acknowledge this particular whistleblower case and conduct a further case review would have revealed that the National Guardian had failed to make any difference with her original review of the NHS trust.
The omission was reminiscent of the National Guardian’s personal decision at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust to arbitrarily delay a review to allow a favoured trust CEO and board time to get their story straight.
It is bad enough that the National Guardian’s Office has no powers and no real authority. It is additionally deplorable that it makes up the rules as it goes along, at major cost to frontline staff and patients.
The NHS is a critical public service. Staff must be free to raise issues of unmet need and risks to patient safety, whether or not this is embarrassing for ministers.
It is completely unacceptable for vulnerable NHS whistleblowers’ fates to be left in the control of politicised processes and bodies, and for them to suffer serious personal injury because of oversight bodies’ negligence and collusion with employers.
If you have not done so already, please sign and share the petition calling for reform of UK whistleblowing law, and real enforcement structure to protect whistleblowers and the public.
We need a central whistleblowing agency, free from political interference by any government, which operates fully in the spirit of public service and Nolan standards of objectivity and selflessness.
All of us depend on whistleblowers all the time, whether or not we know it.
Please help them in return.