Fundamental failure of the NHS Freedom To Speak Up Project: Dr Rajai Al-Jehani unfairly sacked by Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust for whistleblowing on breaches of Human Tissue law, with suppression of linked investigations by University College London

Dr Minh Alexander retired consultant psychiatrist 2 September 2022

An Employment Tribunal found on 15 August 2022 that Dr Al-Jehani was unfairly dismissed and subject to a number of detriments by the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust because she had made protected disclosures in the public interest:

Employment Tribunal judgment Dr Rajai Al-Jehani v Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust Case Number 2207672/2020

The story is complex and I am unable to do it justice at present, but am briefly posting to share the ET outcome as it appears to be a very serious matter of NHS probity.

Dr Al-Jehani was employed as biomedical scientist by the Royal Free, with an honorary contract with University College London (UCL). She worked for the trust, but was based at UCL’s Institute for Liver and Digestive Health.

She became concerned that human tissue was being diverted into for-profit activities by fellow researchers at UCL, some of whom she alleged had conflicts of interest and held shares in the commercial venture which she believed were benefiting from this diversion of human tissue.

The company named in the ET judgment as the focus of Dr Al-Jehani’s concerns was Engitix, which is listed at Companies House:

Engitix Limited  Company number 10290441

The UCL response to Dr Al-Jehani’s disclosures was led by Professor Mark Emberton, Professor of Interventional Oncology and Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at UCL.

Extraordinarily, UCL conducted three separate strands of investigation in response to her concerns – research misconduct, poor human resources practice and financial impropriety – but with a plan agreed with the Royal Free to withhold the fact that the UCL investigations were completed, and their findings, from Dr Al-Jehani.

In the meantime, the Royal Free moved to dismiss her through redundancy. The trust’s managers left a trail of correspondence which showed that they wished to remove her as soon as possible, as they considered her a “thorn in the side”.

The ET concluded that it had no jurisdiction over Dr Al-Jehani’s claims against UCL because the claims were made out of time.

But a very serious question mark clearly hangs over UCL’s part in the matter.

The ET determined that Dr Al-Jehani’s concern that a cover up had taken place was a protected disclosure and that her belief was reasonable in the circumstances.

It also concluded that the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust’s detrimental actions against Dr Al-Jehani were motivated by self-interest. Namely, a desire to stay on good terms with UCL, and to protect the powerful:

“Furthermore, the fact that the Claimant was kept in the dark about the outcome of UCL’s investigations into her complaints, and that was on specific instructions of RK [Robert Kleta, Director of the Division of Medicine, UCL with clinical appointments as Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Nephrology (Great Ormond Street) and Renal Medicine (Royal Free)] (who was meant to be acting as a complainant on behalf of the Claimant, and therefore in her interests), is another important piece in the jigsaw.”

“The picture that emerges shows that the Claimant’s protected disclosures ruffled a few important feathers at UCL, nobody at UCL wanted to deal with the Claimant and wanted her out of sight as soon as possible.”

Maintaining a good relationship with UCL was important for the Trust. The Tribunal heard evidence that RK [Robert Keta} and DT [Douglas Thorburn, Clinical Director for Hepatology and Liver Transplant Royal Free, listed as a scientific advisor at Engitix]  worked closely together. SS gave evidence that RK was DT’s opposite number at UCL, but in a “slightly senior” position. LG [Lee Gutcher Operations Manager of the Liver Services Directorate] admitted that there was some arrangement between UCL and the Trust on regarding the exchange of honorary appointments, though he did not have the details.”

The Trust was not going to stick up for the Claimant. Instead, it wanted to solve the problem by finding a way of getting the Claimant out of ILHD [UCL’s Institute for Liver and Digestive Health ] as soon as possible. The paused redundancy process was the most convenient vehicle to achieve that”.

The ET agreed with Dr Al-Jehani’s contention that the redundancy exercise by the trust was a sham:

“The fact that Patricia Blake was first included in the pool, but then removed by DT [Douglas Thorburn] under the pretext that she was included in MP’s [ employment package, with rather dubious evidence in support of that (see pp 1776 and 238), gives us further grounds to infer that the main purpose of the resumed redundancy exercise was to remove the Claimant’s role from ILDH as soon as possible. rather than to achieve financial savings.”

The Employment Tribunal rejected the evidence of several trust managers, which it did not believe.

The Royal Free decided not to call a key witness, Douglas Thorburn (“DT”), Clinical Director for Hepatology and Liver Transplant. He had written an email of 24 July 2019 about dismissing Dr Al-Jehani as follows:

“Hi Robert& Massimo, I’m away at present. I spoke with our ops manager mon evening before I left. Because we had started looking at termination of her role (and one other RFH funded post in ILDH- Sheri-Ann) before she put in her initial complaint we are at liberty to progress the case for redundancy or relocation. (Indeed all her actions have likely been prompted by her recognising her position was at risk…….). The case is in hand and will be submitted for approval shortly (I understand this or next week). Given the problems created it is highly likely/certain it will be approved and the issues will cease. I’m sorry that in the meantime she remains a thorn in the side but I believe this is best just tolerated in the knowledge she will be gone soon. I’ll check in with Lee re anticipated time scales.”

The ET reasoned:

“375. DT writes in that email: “Because we had started looking at termination of her role (and one other RFH funded post in ILDH- Sheri-Ann) before she put in her initial complaint we are at liberty to progress the case for redundancy or relocation. [..] The case is in hand and will be submitted for approval shortly (I understand this or next week). Given the problems created it is highly likely/certain it will be approved and the issues will cease. I’m sorry that in the meantime she remains a thorn in the side but I believe this is best just tolerated in the knowledge she will be gone soon. I’ll check in with Lee re anticipated time scales.” DT could not be any clearer. He wants the Claimant out and because there is that paused redundancy process, which had started before the claimant blew the whistle, the matter can be progressed and the rest will be mere formality.

376. In our judgment, that was effectively the decision to dismiss the Claimant. It was taken by DT. The principal reason for which he took that decision was “the problems created” by the Claimant by making the protected disclosures. The rest was just a matter of executing on the decision. The HR Department was on board with the decision (NW writes in her reply – “We are following the process you have set out in your email.” – p.1877). LG, with assistance from SS, sets the wheels in motion.”

The ET concluded that Douglas Thorburn would have been a damaging witness for the Royal Free, on the following basis:

“Based on our findings of fact (see paragraphs 69-76) we find that the Claimant’s protected disclosures were the main factor in the Trust’s decision to resume the redundancy process. The email from DT [Douglas Thorburn] speaks volumes. The Trust decided not to call DT to give evidence to the Tribunal. NW confirmed in her evidence that DT was still an employee of the Trust. Therefore, the Tribunal draws an inference that DT’s evidence to the Tribunal would have been unhelpful to the Trust’s case, and DT would not have been able to give an alternative reasonable explanation to the apparent meaning of his email. On a fair reading, DT states that the problem of the Claimant being “a thorn in the side” will be solved through redundancy. The redundancy case will almost certainly be approved (given the problems the Claimant had created), and it is just a matter of time to let the process run its course while tolerating the Claimant “in the knowledge she will be gone soon”.

The ET also criticised the evidence of Patricia Rubin, Divisional Director of Operations,who heard Dr Al-Jehani’s appeal against dismissal, with support from David Bray Head of Workforce.

The ET noted that Patricia Rubin claimed that UCL’s investigations were sound, but when questioned by the ET about this, Rubin was unable to give reasons. She also admitted that the appeal panel did not look into a grievance by Dr Al-Jehani (which the ET reported had been sent to the Site Chief Executive Officer Kate Slemeck).

“The letter concluded by saying: “On the matters related to your speaking up concerns, your treatment as outlined in your grievance, the panel is confident that UCL have fulfilled its legal obligations to ensure speaking up concerns and grievances are appropriately investigated in accordance with their own regulatory requirements and internal procedures”.

116. I asked Ms Rubin what gave the panel that confidence. She was not able to provide any satisfactory answer. She was also not able to explain on what basis the panel “noted” that the Claimant did not appeal the speaking up/grievance outcome, when the former was kept secret from her for over a year and UCL’s grievance letter said that she had no right of appeal. It is even more surprising considering Ms Rubin’s admission in cross-examination that the panel did not look into the Claimant’s grievance.

“…Ms Rubin’s evidence was highly unsatisfactory. While she maintained that the Claimant’s whistleblowing had nothing to do with the panel’s decision to refuse the Claimant’s appeal, she could not properly explain on what basis the panel made its decision (see the Tribunal’s findings of fact at paragraphs 113-116 above).

349. Furthermore, Ms Rubin accepted in her evidence that the panel did not consider any alternatives to the dismissal. She was not even certain whether the appeal had the power to reinstate the Claimant. She could not say what the Claimant could have said or done at the appeal meeting to avoid the dismissal. She later said that the Claimant could have presented new evidence.

350. However, the Claimant did present evidence (not least by telling the panel why she considered her complaints had not been properly dealt with), but the panel chose not to investigate them and instead roundly dismissed them on the basis of the panel being “confident that UCL have fulfilled its legal obligations to ensure speaking up concerns and grievances are appropriately investigated in accordance with their own regulatory requirements and internal procedures”. Ms Rubin was unable to explain on what basis the panel came to that decision”

Another trust manager, Sutopa Sen Lead HR Business Partner for the Transplantation and Specialist Services, told Dr Al-Jehani to leave for her “well being”:

“312. Looking at the subsequent steps in the process: – SS telling the Claimant that it would be better for her wellbeing to leave ILDH, failure to deal with the Claimant’s February 2020 grievance, and the haste with which the Claimant was eventually dismissed after UCL had sent its letter of 10 June 2020 (and that is despite the 3 months hold on redundancies), we are drawn to the conclusion that the real reason why the Trust had decided to resume the process was to eventually get rid of the Claimant because she had made herself a persona non-grata at ILDH and created unwelcome problems for UCL and the Trust by blowing the whistle on what the Claimant considered to be illegal practices at ILDH.”

The Actions and Omissions of the Royal Free Freedom to Speak Up system

The Designated Directors for whistleblowing at the Royal Free are a Non-executive Director Speaking up Lead and the Director of Planning and Director of Workforce and OD).

The trust Freedom To Speak Up Guardian Jim Mansfield Unison Staff Side Chair was informed of Dr Al-Jehani’s whistleblowing disclosures in November 2017 and he and the Workforce Director met with her:

“On 22 November 2017, the Claimant wrote to her union representative, Ivor Dore, complaining about her difficulties with accessing tissue samples, various other practices at UCL and how she was being treated at ILDH by MP [Massimo Pinzani, Director of Institute for Liver and Digestive Health “Chairman of Engitix; 2nd largest shareholder of Engitix”], GM [Giuseppe Mazza, “PhD Student / employee of R2 as Doctoral Scientist; CEO of Engitix; Largest shareholder in Engitix; Respondent in the PID investigation], AG [Dr Amir Gander, Tissue Access for Patient Benefit (“TAPb”) Manager UCL] and other colleagues. Ivor Dore passed the Claimant’s complaint to Jim Mansfield (“JM”), a union representative and Speaking-up Guardian, who on 4 December 2017 registered it under the Trust’s Speaking Up Policy and Procedure.

“The Claimant’s complaint contained, inter alia, allegations that: (i) tissues samples at TAPb were being used by those who controlled access to it for commercial profit in preference to scientific non-for-profit research, (ii) there was a conflict of interest because AG needed to raise at least £8,000 a month from tissue samples in TAPb to keep his job, (iii) to obtain patients’ consent to donate liver organs GM [Giuseppe Mazza] impersonated a medical doctor, (iv) AG [Amir Gander] attempted to get non-English speaking patients to sign consent forms in English, and (v) donors when signing the consent form did not know that their organs would be used for commercial profit and not for medical research.”

“On 19 January 2018, Natalie Ware (“NW”), Head of Workforce for the Trust’s Hospital Business Unit, and JM met the Claimant to discuss her complaints. NW and JM [Jim Mansfield Speak Up Guardian] asked the Claimant to gather further information on the matters she complained about.”

Dr Al-Jehani provided the Freedom To Speak Up Guardian and the Director of Workforce with information on several occasions.

Natalie Ware discussed Dr Jehani’s case with the trust Chief People Officer and the Chief Medical Officer:

David Grantham, Chief People Officer and Executive Lead for Speaking Up, and Dr Chris Streather, Medical Director for the Trust,Dr Chris Streather, Medical Director for the Trust,to discuss the process of handling the Claimant’s complaints.”

According to the ET, the Freedom To Speak Up Guardian toed the trust management line of not telling Dr Al-Jehani that UCL’s investigations into her concerns had concluded and that her concerns were rejected by UCL.

The ET “preferred” Dr Al-Jehani’s evidence to that of the Freedom To Speak Up Guardian and the Director of Workforce. The ET expressed concern that neither the Freedom To Speak Up Guardian or the Director of Workforce took meeting notes, made records of meetings or sent a follow up email to Dr Al Jehani after meetings.

  1. “On 17 December 2018, the Claimant had a meeting with NW [Natalie Ware] and JM [Jim Mansfield]. They did not tell the Claimant that the investigation had been concluded or what the outcome was. The Claimant remained unaware of that until her redundancy consultation meeting on 10 December 2019. On balance, the Tribunal prefers the Claimant’s evidence on this issue because it is supported by documentary evidence (see pp.1204, 1222 and 1225), which shows that as late as August 2019 the Claimant was operating under a misapprehension that the investigation into her complaints was still ongoing. It is also consistent with NW’s admission that she withheld the outcome report from the Claimant because RK had told her not to share it with the Claimant. It is striking that neither NW (being an HR professional) nor JM (being Speaking-up Guardian) took any notes at the various meetings they had with the Claimant, or made any file notes following the meetings, or sent any follow-up emails to the Claimant recording what had been discussed at the meetings.”

The Tribunal concluded that the Royal Free kept Dr Al-Jehani in ignorance, in concert with UCL, to disadvantage her and suppress her raising of concerns:

“The respondents did not call RK [Robert Kleta] to give evidence to the Tribunal to explain the reasons he told NW not to share the outcome of the investigation with the Claimant. Based on that and the evidence in front of us, the Tribunal draws an inference that RK wished the Claimant to remain unaware of the outcome of the investigation for as long as possible, so that steps could be taken to have the Claimant relocated away from ILDH (see p. 1878) without the Claimant first attempting to appeal the outcome of the investigation or otherwise escalating the matter, or making further complaints against UCL staff. This was discussed and agreed with the Trust (see pp.1877, 1878).”

The finding by the ET that the Royal Free’s Freedom To Speak Up Guardian “did not tell the Claimant that the investigation had been concluded or what the outcome was” illustrates yet again why the government’s Freedom To Speak Up project is fundamentally flawed.

It puts Freedom To Speak Up guardians who are subordinate employees in the impossible position of holding their bosses to account, when in reality this means that they must either risk victimisation for doing so, or they do what they are told, against the public interest.

It is a form of institutionalised bullying.

Dr Al-Jehani’s validated Protected Disclosures

The ET accepted the following as legally protected disclosures by Dr Al-Jehani.

Public Interest Disclosure 1

“209. She relies on various passages in her email in which she complains that her access to liver sample in the TAPb was being obstructed whereas GM [Giuseppe Mazza] and Prof Rombouts [Krista Rombouts Professorial Research Associate, Engitix shareholder] were able to obtain hundreds of whole livers from the TAPb, which then were being used for commercial purposes via Engitix.

210. The Trust does not accept that it was a protected disclosure. It states that the nature of the letter was the Claimant asking various questions (e.g. is it ethical?) rather than disclosing information alleging potential breach of the HTA. It also argues that it was the Claimant’s way of getting access to tissue samples, as the Claimant accepted in cross-examination.

211. We find that, read as a whole, the email does disclose information, as it contains sufficient factual information. The fact that the Claimant then poses various questions regarding the ethics and legality of the practices she complains about does not mean that the factual content of the email is not sufficient. It clearly identifies the facts, which the Claimant claims show inappropriate and potentially illegal behaviour.

212. We are also satisfied that the Claimant had a reasonable belief that the information she was disclosing tended to show a criminal offence, namely the use of human tissue contrary to the HTA and that she reasonably believed the disclosure was in the public interest. In concluding her email, she wrote: “I believe that it is in the interest of the NHS and the general public that the issues I have raised above are addressed immediately by the NHS or other appropriate body”.

213. Therefore, we find that PID 1 was a protected disclosure under s.43A ERA.”

Public Interest Disclosure 29

“222. Still in the same email of 22 November 2017 the Claimant stated that AG [Amir Gander] had tried to get non-English speaking patients to sign donor’s consent form in English and had asked the Claimant to translate it orally to the patients, which the Claimant had declined to do.

223. She claims that the information tended to show a criminal offence by reference to various sections in the HTA, and also a failure to comply with a legal obligation, namely various provisions in the Human Tissue Authority Code of Conduct E – Research (pp 217 – 218 of Appendices to PD table) – (“Code of Conduct E”).

224. The Trust does not admit that it amounted to a protected disclosure but does not make any further submissions.

225. We find that it was a protected disclosure. The relevant passage in the email contains sufficient factual information – GM [Giuseppe Mazza] approaching non-English speaking patients to sign consent forms in English and asking the Claimant to translate for him. The Claimant goes on to say that she told AG [Amir Gander] that to obtain a valid consent the form would need to be translated into Arabic, which AG said it was too complicated. However, the Claimant claims that subsequent to that conversation AG was caught approaching non-English speaking patients in the private wing of the hospital for consent. Therefore, we find that the Claimant reasonably believed that the information she was disclosing tended to show that AG was committing a criminal offence by attempting to obtain patients’ consent in contravention of the HTA. We also find that she reasonably believed the disclosure was in the public interest. Therefore, PID 29 was a protected disclosure.”

Public Interest Disclosure 49

231. The Claimant relies on her email of 12 February 2018 to JM [Jim Mansfield Speak Up Guardian] in which she states that she overheard a telephone conversation in which GM [Giuseppe Mazza] said to the person at the other end of the line (who the Claimant thought was a potential investor into Engitix) that he (GM) was able to source human tissue and that he had a team who were proficient in decellularizing all human tissue. GM also told the “investor” about his plants to travel to Japan and the USA to meet with other investors, and of GM’s plans to set up a human myofibroblast (a type of human cell) biobank.

232. The Claimant says that this communication contained information that tended to show “commercialisation of human tissue” which she says is a criminal offence under the HTA and also a failure to comply with a legal obligation under the Code of Conduct E.

233. The Trust does not admit that the email amounts to a protected disclosure and states that the nature of the content of the communication is the Claimant asking questions and it did not tend to show a criminal offence or a failure to comply with a legal obligation.

234. We find that it was a protected disclosure, when read in the context of the Claimant’s earlier 22 November disclosure. Essentially, the Claimant provides further information in support of her PID 1, which she reasonably believed tended to show that human tissue samples were being used for commercial purposes in breach of the HTA. We also find that she reasonably believed that the disclosure was in the public interest. Therefore, we find PID 49 was a protected disclosure.

Public Interest Disclosure 33

“227. Although listed under 22 November 2017, it appears the Claimant relies on her email of 13 April 2018 and the attachments, in which she alleged that MP [Massimo Pinzani] and GM [Giuseppe Mazza]  had obtained ethical approval to use tissue from TAPb for domestic research  only, however in their funding application they wrongly asserted that the approval covered commercial use, including abroad through Engitix.

228. She claims that information tended to show a criminal offence under the HTA, and also under s.2 of the FA, and that there was a failure to comply with a legal obligation under various paragraphs of the Code of Conduct E.

229. The Trust does not admit that the disclosure amounted to a protected disclosure and points out that if the alleged breach is of the Code of Conduct, that is insufficient.

230. We find that the communication was a protected disclosure. The Claimant includes the original application for human tissue by GM and MP for the organ regeneration project and the ethics approval letter and provides details, which she says, show that the ethics approval covered only domestic use, whereas the funding application represented that the ethics approval covered a wider use and that was a false representation contrary to the HTA. We also find that the Claimant reasonably believed that the disclosure was in the public interest. Therefore, PID 33 was a protected disclosure.”

Public Interest Disclosure 3

“273. The Claimant relies on her email of 31 May 2018 to JM [Jim Mansfield Speak Up Guardian] and NM [Natalie Ware], in which she wrote about a talk given at the Research and Development Open Day at the Royal Free Hospital. At that talk, AG [Amir Gander] and Dr Emma Lawrence, Engagement Director at UCL, talked about problems researchers face in accessing human tissue samples and how TAPb was facilitating access to samples. The Claimant asked a question about what percentage of donated organs were ended up being used by NHS. Dr Lawrence said that she did not have such information. The Claimant then asked whether they had information on recovery costs for procuring tissue samples. The answer was no. The Claimant then explained the difficulties she had with accessing sample at TAPb, and AG said that it was not the right forum to discuss these issues.

274. The Claimant claims that this email contained information, which in her reasonable belief tended to show that a criminal offence of using/storing donated materials for a non-qualified purpose, namely commercial profit contrary to s.8 HTA.

“281. The Claimant relies on the same email of 31 May 2018, in which she also wrote about her encounter with a PhD student, who she suspected was unwittingly exploited by GM [Giuseppe Mazza] and MP [Massimo Pinzani]  for the benefit of Engitix and was not properly supervised. She wrote that she believed that the students were not being given correct guidance and training on ethical use of human tissue, HTA regulations, data protection and other governance and therefore “many of these regulations are being violated”.

282. She claims that in her reasonable belief the information tended to show criminal offences under the HTA and the FA, and a failure to comply with a legal obligation under Code of Conduct – E, the DPA and GDPR.

283. We find it was a protected disclosure. It contains factual information about the Claimant’s conversation with the student from which she discovered that the student was working on a project for Engitix. She makes assertions that the work was not properly supervised, and applicable regulations violated. Although those assertions are not supported by concrete evidence in that email, when read together with her earlier disclosures, in particular 1, 33, 39, 43, 49 and 75, we find that the Claimant did believe that the information provided tended to show likely violations of the relevant laws and regulations and in the circumstances that belief was reasonable. We also find that she reasonably believed that the information disclosed was the public interest. Therefore, it was a protected disclosure.”

Public Interest Disclosure 75

242. The Claimant relies on her email to JM [Jim Mansfield Speak Up Guardian] of 12 March 2018 in which she reported a serious breach of data protection. She wrote that she had discovered that GM [Giuseppe Mazza] had a folder labelled “human liver” which contained highly sensitive information related to NHS patients from whom human liver samples had been obtained and kept in TAPb and that folder was kept on a shelf in a shared office which many UCL staff and students had access to.

243. The Claimant claims that she reasonably believed the information tended to show that a criminal office had been committed under s.170 of the Data Protection Act 2018 (“the DPA”) (unlawful obtaining of personal data without consent) and a failure to comply with legal obligations under the DPA, the General Data Regulations 2016, Code of Conduct E and UCL-RFH BERC Guidelines.

244. The Trust does not admit that it was a protected disclosure but makes no further submissions.

245. We find that it was a protected disclosure. The email contained detailed factual information, the Claimant reported it as a serious data protection breach. We find that she reasonably believed that the information tended to show a failure to comply with a legal obligation under the data protection legislation and possibly a criminal offence. Given the likely number of patients (the data went back to 2014) whose highly sensitive personal data the Claimant thought was at risk, we find that she reasonably believed the disclosure was in the public interest. Therefore, we find PID 75 was a protected disclosure.”

Public Interest Disclosures 81/82

“287. The Claimant relies on paragraphs 282-305 in her 5 February 2020 grievance in which she complains that her complaints were not properly investigated, and the Screening Panel decision was a sham. The Claimant explained that she disagreed with the Panel’s conclusions because these were based on untrue submissions by the Individual Respondents, and because her complaints had been rejected without any proper investigation. She also complained that the Trust had failed to inform her of the outcome of the investigation despite knowing it from late 2018 or early 2019. She said it was a cover up.

288. The Claimant claims that these paragraphs in her grievance contained information, which in her reasonable belief tended to should concealment of criminal offences and failures to comply with legal obligations contained in her earlier disclosures.

289. The Trust does not admit it was a protected disclosure because it says it was “not disclosure of information tending to show…”

290. We find that it was a protected disclosure. The Claimant gives detailed factual information about what happened with her complaints and why she believes these have not been properly dealt with. She explains why she disagrees with the Screening Panel conclusions and why such conclusions could not have been reasonably made on the evidence presented if a due investigation process had been followed. She says that she believes it was a cover up. Her complaints that had been passed to the Screening Panel, as we found, contained protected disclosures falling within s.43B(1)(a) and (b). Therefore, we find that the Claimant did disclose information, which she believed tended to show that the matters she had complained about in protected disclosures had been deliberately concealed. In the circumstances we find that her belief was reasonable and that she reasonably believed that the disclosure of that information was in the public interest. Therefore, we find that PID81/82 was a protected disclosure.”

Some of Dr Dr Al-Jehani’s very serious concerns about wrongdoing did not meet the legal threshold of protected disclosures as they were suspicions which the ET considered did not constitute “reasonable beliefs”, but they are nevertheless sobering reading.

For example:

On 22 May 2018, the Claimant sent further information to NW and JM, again raising the issues of GM keeping confidential patients’ data in the shared office and also making new allegations of inappropriate use of charity funds by a company called 3P, whose shareholders included GM and MP.”

The ET has taken the unusual step of attaching a list of the disclosures that Dr Al-Jehani relied upon, in Appendix 2 of the ET judgment.

This is the UK law which sets out the way in which use of human tissue is strictly controlled and creates criminal offences for breach of its requirements:

Human Tissue Act 2004

Dramatis Personae

At the end of the ET Judgment there is a “cast list” of all involved in this most striking and worrying case.

The UCL investigators of Dr Al-Jehani’s public interest disclosures were:

At UCL, these were the listed “respondents” in UCL’s investigation into Dr Al-Jehani’s public interest disclosures:

And of course, where would we be without the National Guardian’s cheery contributions.

This is the former National Guardian Henrietta Hughes, featured in the Royal Free’s publicity material about Freedom To Speak Up in October 2019:“It’s your time to speak up”

UPDATE 3 SEPTEMBER 2022

I have written to the Health Secretary as follows about this matter and the general failure of the Freedom To Speak Up project:

BY EMAIL 

Stephen Barclay

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

3 September 2022

Dear Mr Barclay,

Serious failure of the NHS Freedom To Speak Up project, related waste and serious allegations about the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust and the Human Tissue Act

The Freedom To Speak Up project, of installing employee “Guardians” at NHS trusts, with national leadership but not line management, by a National Freedom To Speak Up Guardian office without any powers, has failed.

The creation of this model of whistleblowing governance was expressly to 

– prevent serious detriment to whistleblowers and destructive litigation

“Rare” was the goal defined by the report of the Freedom To Speak Up Review by Robert Francis:

“10.6 It will be important that progress is reviewed regularly. Culture change is not a one-off event, but requires constant attention and development. I believe that the widespread introduction of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians, with a national point of reference created through the new post of the Independent National Officer, is a key component in keeping watch over the way concerns are handled, providing support to those who need it, and ensuring the patient safety issue is always addressed. The climate that can be generated by these measures will be one in which injustice to whistleblowers should become very rare indeed, but is redressed when it does occur.”

– protect patients from harm due to cover ups.

This has not been achieved. Seriously harmed whistleblowers, failed by the Freedom To Speak Up mechanism, continue to sue the NHS and their cases reveal gross patient safety/ abuse/ rights issues.

Research has shown that the majority of issues raised with NHS Freedom To Speak Up Guardians are low level interpersonal/employment gripes, rather than more serious issues:

“Our analysis suggests that the role’s potential contribution might be understood less as supporting whistleblowers who bear witness to clear-cut wrongdoing, and more as helping those with lower-level worries to construct their concerns and what to do with them.”

In any case, all Freedom To Speak Up Guardians do in most cases is pass on concerns. They are not empowered to act as advocates, and any who do so are themselves harmed.

This is one of the latest examples of the model’s ineffectiveness:

Fundamental failure of the NHS Freedom To Speak Up Project: Dr Rajai Al-Jehani unfairly sacked by Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust for whistleblowing breaches of Human Tissue law, with suppression of linked investigations by University College London

Dr Al-Jehani’s proven case of unfair dismissal for whistleblowing is shocking in all respects, and it reveals that the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust Freedom To Speak Up Guardian, along with senior trust manages, did not tell her investigations into her disclosures had been completed and had rejected her concerns. The Employment Tribunal concluded that the trust’s withholding of this information was done to disadvantage her, and suppress her raising of concerns.

Yet millions continue to be poured into the Freedom To Speak Up model.

But how can employee Freedom To Speak Up Guardians realistically hold senior trust managers to account or oppose their instructions?

Should the public purse really pay for an ineffective model that is so fundamentally flawed by conflicted interest at the heart of its design?

I would be grateful if you consider these matters and also if you could ensure a proper resolution of Dr Al-Jehani’s concerns about the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust’s role in alleged breaches of the Human Tissue Act.

Dr Al-Jehani contended that there had been a cover up of her concerns and the Employment Tribunal determined that her belief about this was reasonable in the circumstances.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Minh Alexander

Cc Amanda Pritchard CEO NHS England

UPDATE 7 SEPTEMBER 2022

The Times legal editor picked up this story on 5 September 2022

Dr Rajai Al-Jehani unfairly dismissed over claims about human tissue trade

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The toothlessness of the National Guardian’s Office: Why it cannot be a model for protecting whistleblowers

Recent examples of NHS whistleblowers who were unprotected and unfairly dismissed despite the introduction of the ineffective Freedom To Speak Up model include Nephrologist Dr Macanovic and Jane Archibald Senior Nurse. Both of these blameless professionals have had to suffer years long ordeals and legal battles that are still not concluded. Both were specifically failed by the Freedom To Speak Up system at their respective NHS trusts:

Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust sacked Dr Jasna Macanovic consultant nephrologist for whistleblowing to the General Medical Council

Whistleblower Jane Archibald’s unfair dismissal by North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, and a “nurse” who was not qualified but ran epilepsy clinics and advised on epilepsy medication

One thought on “Fundamental failure of the NHS Freedom To Speak Up Project: Dr Rajai Al-Jehani unfairly sacked by Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust for whistleblowing on breaches of Human Tissue law, with suppression of linked investigations by University College London

  1. I am speaking up!
    I could only read half of your report, Dr A, because the contents so upset me.
    A gang of dishonourable bullies so unaware of their own deep-seated shortcomings that they have no shame in admitting and demonstrating them – as if they were something to be proud of!
    However, I must pause and wish the victim – Dr Rajai Al-Jehani – every success in her future career and that she enjoys many joyful days, having withstood so many totally undeserved miserable ones. May I also congratulate her for having had the strength of character to pursue this dreadful matter and earn well-deserved validation at the E.T.
    It seems there are two qualities required for success in the higher managerial positions in our beleaguered NHS (1) to be deficient in decent human values and (2) to have gleaming white teeth that detract from the darkness within.
    Thank you, Dr A, but what a disgrace this matter is.

    Like

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