By Dr Minh Alexander retired consultant psychiatrist 2 March 2023
Marianne Griffiths a former NHS trust CEO and a Jeremy Hunt favourite, is an NHS insider who has been picked by NHS England to investigate the deaths scandal at NEAS revealed by whistleblowers.
Both whistleblowers and bereaved families have expressed fears of a whitewash.
Griffiths’ former trust at Sussex had whistleblower scandals of its own during her tenure.
A Study in Delay: The National Guardian & Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust
A Study in Delay II : The National Guardian, maternity safety & University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust
NHS England has to date failed to give a straight answer on whether it has checked that there are no ongoing matters at Sussex that might call into question Griffiths’ suitability to investigate the NEAS affair.
Her former trust University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust has been resistive to recent FOIs about its recent whistleblowing and HR governance.
But the trust did admit that it had sacked 145 staff in financial years 2019/20 to 2021/22. (Griffiths stepped down as Sussex CEO on 1 April 2022).
Sussex claimed that it was unable to give any details about Employment Tribunal claims filed against the trust, including those filed under the jurisdiction code of public interest disclosure (whistleblowing). This was on the unlikely basis that there was no central file and that it would cost too much to retrieve the data manually.
The trust also claimed that it had no central data on settlement agreements and could provide no data on confidentiality clauses used.
I wrote to Griffith’s successor George Findlay CEO (who like David Rosser ex CEO of UHB was the former medical director of the trust) to question the claim that the trust could not even tell me about current Employment Tribunal claims against the trust.
I also suggested that if Findlay was following the recommendations of the 2015 Freedom to Speak Up Review and personally taking responsibility as CEO for the contents of the trust’s settlement agreements, he should be able to give me some idea of the trust’s approach.
Letter to George Findlay trust CEO 2 February 2023
I did not receive a reply from Findlay, but a further FOI response was issued by the trust which reveals that there are currently FOURTEEN live employment tribunal claims against the trust. The trust refuses to say if any of these cases include whistleblowing claims:
“There are currently 14 employment tribunal cases in progress. We are unable to provide any further information relevant to these cases (e.g. those that include a PID as per your request) due to the small number of staff involved and the risk of identification.”
Moreover, the trust discloses that it has dismissed staff by professional group in the three years 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2022 as follows:
(The total here is different from that given in the previous trust FOI response)
The trust claims the total number of medical staff dismissed in this period is six. Also, that six doctors were referred to the General Medical Council in this period.
The trust claimed that this is its current template for confidentiality requirements in settlement agreements:
- The Employee understands and accepts that she/he/they will remain bound by any pre- existing confidentiality obligations in her/his/their contract of employment, including the obligation to keep confidential any patient confidential information and all confidential information and know how that the Trust may have disclosed to the Employee, whether orally, in writing or digitally which includes but is not limited to data, financial information, financial projections, financial records, spreadsheets, computer software, patient information and any information which has been given to the Trust in confidence and any other information which the Employee is told is confidential which the Employee has obtained about the Trust or its patients or its employees and its officers during the currency of the Employee’s employment, however obtained, and whether held on document, computer disc, tape or otherwise and not to publish that information to any third party without the prior written consent of the Trust.”
Sussex’s above confidentiality requirement purportedly contains no restriction on disparagement or disclosing the existence of the agreement or its contents, but it is otherwise more exhaustively drafted than NHS Employer’s template for confidentiality about past employment.
This is from NHS Employer’s template::
Whether or not it has more force in law, Sussex’s longer list of “must nots” may certainly make former employers more anxious about what they can disclose.
Sussex provided the template purportedly used for the last settlement agreement that it reached:
FOI disclosure 1 March 2023 Sussex settlement agreement template 2023
So, is it a sustainable argument for George Findlay and University Hospitals of Sussex NHS Foundation Trust to claim that the trust cannot disclose if it is facing any whistleblower detriment claims on grounds of privacy?
I hope that journalists will be testing this and exploring further, for the sake of patients at both North East Ambulance Service and at Sussex, and any Sussex whistleblowers currently suffering in the obscurity imposed by the processes that are inflicted upon them.
It seems NHS England, which allegedly has a conflict of interest through mismanagement of the original NEAS whistleblower disclosures, seems disinclined to ask hard questions.
The regulator is after all, now a proven whistleblower abuser in its own right.
A predecessor body of UHSNHSFT unfairly sacked consultant neurosurgeon Mr James Akinwunmi who had raised patient safety and governance issues.
Top hospital consultant claims NHS spent £1million fighting him after he turned whistleblower
Did Griffiths and Findlay, who took over after an organisational merger, follow up properly on the governance issues arising from the case?
Are there persisting unsafe systems and practices that allowed the unfair dismissal of a doctor who raised patient safety concerns?
Have other doctors since been sacked by the trust after raising concerns?
But facts may be immaterial to regulators.
Sussex remains a favourite with the Care Quality Commission and retains its overall “Outstanding” rating from 2019 despite subsequent findings in 2021 of poor whistleblowing governance:
Trust keeps ‘outstanding’ rating despite not listening ‘enough’ to staff concerns