By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 24 November 2020
A former worker from an NHS trust previously reviewed by the NHS National Guardian for whistleblowing has been in contact with me. They allege that they were discouraged by the National Guardian’s Office when they came forward with additional concerns about this trust.
They wrote to the National Guardian’s Office last year asking for help. I have seen the correspondence. Amongst other things, it describes a very dysfunctional trust management culture.
The worker reports that in response, they received a telephone call from a manager at the National Guardian’s Office, persuading them to drop their case.
There is no written record of this conversation, so no proof and only the worker’s recollection of the matter.
But the fact that the National Guardian’s Office apparently did not set out its advice in writing is of itself a concern. This is a theme repeated in another case, the details of which will follow in due course.
Nevertheless, the worker’s broad memory of the comments made by the manager from the National Guardian’s Office is as follows:
“The conclusion of the phone call was that [REDACTED] advised me to “just let it go. At the end of the day, what are your expectations? You have a new job now, you no longer work for [REDACTED], do you really want to subject yourself to all the stress of going over your experience again?
Needless to say, these comments were never confirmed to me by either written correspondence or email. This took place in [REDACTED] last year, and only added to my sense of isolation and injustice.
I often reflect on the system we have in this country and how frustrating and pointless it all is.
The inevitable conclusion is that managers continue to bully and threaten staff, affect their physical and mental health, affect their family life and remain safe in the knowledge that, basically they are untouchable.”
The worker had been unwell as a result of their experiences, and the rebuff by the National Guardian’s Office was especially unwelcome from that point of view.
It is of course legitimate to help whistleblowers think through their options, including walking away where appropriate, because of individual circumstances and risk assessment. But that should be a facilitative discussion, guided by the whistleblower’s wishes, not an exercise in persuasion.
However, the above comments by the National Guardian’s Office were experienced by the worker simply as discouragement.
I have been contacted by several unhappy staff from this trust, some of whom have also reported problems with the National Guardian’s Office.
There is a potential conflict of interest for the National Guardian’s Office in this matter. It may be trying to keep a lid on trusts where it has already conducted a case review, because it does not want to acknowledge any evidence of its ineffectiveness.
There have already been similar examples, such as that of the important case exposed by Stephen Colgrave and Byline Times two months ago. This included an audit trail of the National Guardian’s Office twisting its own process to avoid an embarrassing case review:
Ineffective whistleblowing bodies are dangerous, especially those which are captured or which do not operate ethically. They can harm vulnerable whistleblowers in crisis, and they fail to protect the public.
If you have not done so already, please sign and share this petition for much safer UK whistleblowing law and a properly established, independent central whistleblowing agency to enforce good practice: