East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, whistleblower reprisal & the curious case of Matt Hancock’s disappearing bloopers

By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 18 January 2020

This is a short ditty of our sad little post truth island, fluttering in the cold winds of oligarchs, cronyism and comedy politicians.

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust was formed by the merger in July 2018 of Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust and Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust.

The CEO of Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, Nick Hulme, took charge of the new trust. Hulme had previously been CEO of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, which had been found guilty of serious whistleblower reprisal against Kevin Beatt cardiologist.

He had in fact been running Colchester in addition to Ipswich for some time before the official merger, with some controversy:

Hospital boss bans employees from telling patients trust is short-staffed

Colchester had its own long history of troubles with bullying and whistleblower woes, for example:

NHS whistleblowing laws ‘must change’…two administrative assistants at a scandal-hit hospital complained that they were “pressured or bullied” to falsify data relating to cancer patients to make it seem like people were being treated in line with national guidelines.

Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust ‘needs improvement’

I asked the National Guardian to review Colchester because of a high level of reported whistleblower detriment, but no action ensued.

In November 2019 I informed CQC Chief Inspector of Hospitals Ted Baker that I had analysed the National Guardian’s published speaking up data, which is based on unverified data submitted by NHS trust Freedom to Speak Up Guardians. Notwithstanding issues about data quality, I found an astonishing level of whistleblower detriment at Nick Hulme’s trust (44.3% of cases when the overall national average was 4.4%).

Based on the National Guardian’s data, East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust was a very clear outlier, even allowing for differences in trust size and type.

The National Guardian must have been aware of this continuing pattern.

Ted Baker acknowledged the data that I sent him and agreed that the CQC could probably make more use of data gathered by Freedom To Speak Up Guardians. He promised to get back to me in due course but has not done so yet.

In the meantime, on 8 January 2020, the CQC issued another ‘ Requires Improvement’ rating on East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust. Despite the very high reported levels of whistleblower detriment, the trust kept its ‘Good’ rating on the Well Led domain.

Yesterday, local news outlets – BBC Suffolk, East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star – reported that Matt Hancock Health Secretary had publicly rode roughshod over the CQC rating of “Requires Improvement” by insisting that “Colchester and Ipswich hospitals were national trailblazers”.

Screenshot 2020-01-18 at 05.04.45

Screenshot 2020-01-18 at 04.31.38

Screenshot 2020-01-18 at 06.49.41

Screenshot 2020-01-18 at 06.49.52

Whatever one thinks of the CQC, it was most irregular that Hancock should publicly undermine his own regulator in this way.

Even more curiously, all these press stories have now disappeared from the internet. This is what remains:

Screenshot 2020-01-18 at 06.14.10

Only one cached version of yesterday’s story by the East Anglian Daily Times remained as far as I could see:

Hancock insists Colchester and Ipswich hospitals are national trailblazers

“Mr Hancock praised the leadership of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust as one of the best in the country despite the CQC report”

Were Hancock’s antics a step too far even by the grossly deteriorated governmental standards of our day? Did Hancock have his collar felt by senior mandarins who ensured that his juvenilia was quickly tidied away?

Never mind. For those bereft and suffering from Hancock withdrawal syndrome, here is some heart warming coverage of Mr Hancock and Mr Hulme smiling together at an Ipswich Suffolk Business Club lunch in March 2019:

Lunch with Secretary of State for Health & Chief Executive of Ipswich & Colchester Hospitals

Screenshot 2020-01-18 at 03.58.09

RELATED ITEMS:

Censorship of national health and social care whistleblowing data: CQC’s economy with the truth

Whistleblower witch hunt: West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust in retreat and disarray

Postscripts on Paula. NHS England’s apologia & regulatory reticence

Replacing the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)

STFU not FTSU

Whistleblower witch hunt: West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust in retreat and disarray

By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 16 January 2020

 

Susan Warby died in August 2018 after surgery by ‘Outstanding’ West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

Her inquest starts today:

Screenshot 2020-01-16 at 02.44.53

Her husband has reportedly initiated legal action against the trust:

“I have instigated a claim for medical malpractice. I am not happy how things were done, but the rest will have to wait until after the inquest.”

The Guardian revealed that the family received an anonymous letter about flaws in her care, which prompted an astonishing witch hunt by West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust for the individual responsible.

Trust managers demanded fingerprints and handwriting samples from staff in order to purportedly identify the author of the letter.

They threatened staff by claiming that any refusal to provide samples would be interpreted as a sign of guilt:

[refusal to consent] “could be considered as evidence which implicates you in writing the letter”.

Even more astonishingly, the trust claimed to the press that its approach had been “backed” by the “NHS national head of whistleblowing”:

“In this case we shared our serious incident investigation process with the CQC [Care Quality Commission], and the NHS national head of whistleblowing, who backed our approach.”

I asked the trust’s chief executive Steve Dunn about the policy and contractual basis on which the trust had asked for biometric data, and to clarify to whom it was referring as the “NHS national head of whistleblowing”.

I also asked if the trust had carried out fingerprint testing of suspect documents, and on how many occasions it had done so.

I specifically asked the trust to clarify whether Dr Henrietta Hughes the National Freedom To Speak Up Guardian had been aware of and in agreement with the trust’s demand for staff fingerprints.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust replied indicating that it regretted asking the involved staff for fingerprints. It disingenuously tried to argue that there had been no disciplinary threat to staff. The trust claimed that it had apologised personally to staff, in writing, and that it had no intention to seek fingerprint evidence again in the future.

However, the trust is in breach of the Freedom of Information legislation because it has failed to answer my above specific questions.

This raised questions about whether the trust bluffed about possessing fingerprint evidence, simply to intimidate its staff.  However, the Guardian has today reported that:

“The trust spent £968 on a handwriting expert and £1,512 on a fingerprint expert to try identify the letter writer.”

Staff say hospital bosses misled them in hunt for whistleblower

This therefore raises an alternative question of whether the trust’s evasion of my questions means that the trust has hunted for staff fingerprints on more than one occasion.

Another unsavoury fact reported by the Guardian today is that the trust mole hunt was led by a trust NED with links to the police force:

“The investigation was overseen by Louisa Pepper, a former assistant police chief constable, who sits as a non-executive director on the trust’s board.”

Screenshot 2020-01-16 at 13.14.32

The NHS as Big Brother, overreaching its authority and treading on staff’s rights, is not a pleasant idea.

The trust’s response to me also raises questions about whether the trust is under orders to protect and conceal the identity of officials from oversight bodies who were reportedly complicit with, or approved, the trust’s extraordinary bullying of its staff. The alternative is the trust was being untruthful when it claimed that it had obtained backing for its witch hunt.

As a whistleblower, I have raised concerns in a former Health Secretary’s constituency. West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust whistleblowers run the extra gauntlet of persecution because they are in Matt Hancock’s backyard, and pose particular embarrassment. Indeed, he has repeatedly refused to meet and support them.

In the meantime, the CQC has defaulted on an FOI request for statistics on whistleblowing by the staff of regulated bodies, so no official information is available on the volume of recent, external whistleblowing by West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust staff to the CQC.

However, the CQC’s report on West Suffolk is due imminently. It will be interesting to see how much CQC will admit about approaches that it has received from trust whistleblowers.

All this hardly gives confidence in the government’s handling of NHS whistleblowing and only further discredits its Freedom To Speak Up scam.

I have questioned the trust’s response to the FOI request. This is the correspondence with the trust so far:

Correspondence with West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust about fingerprint testing December 2019 and January 2020

UPDATE 19 JANUARY 2020

I looked up the Information Commissioner’s advice on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provisions on biometric data.

ICO advises that biometric data is a ‘special category data’ when used for identification purposes, and that this requires ‘explicit consent’:

What is special category data?

The GDPR defines special category data as:

• personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin;
• personal data revealing political opinions;
• personal data revealing religious or philosophical beliefs;
• personal data revealing trade union membership;
• genetic data;
• biometric data (where used for identification purposes);
• data concerning health;
• data concerning a person’s sex life; and
• data concerning a person’s sexual orientation.”

What are the conditions for processing special category data?

Article 9 lists the conditions for processing special category data:

(a) Explicit consent
(b) Employment, social security and social protection (if authorised by law)
(c) Vital interests
(d) Not-for-profit bodies
(e) Made public by the data subject
(f) Legal claims or judicial acts
(g) Reasons of substantial public interest (with a basis in law)
(h) Health or social care (with a basis in law)
(i) Public health (with a basis in law)
(j) Archiving, research and statistics (with a basis in law)”

https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/lawful-basis-for-processing/special-category-data/

One imagines that threatening staff into giving fingerprint evidence does not comply with GDPR.

It also seems, de facto, that when the trust spent £1,512 on a fingerprinting expert to hunt down the identity of a whistleblower, it could not have been processing any biometric data with ‘explicit consent’.

This is an article on the Human Resources aspects of managing biometric data:

GDPR and the ethics of biometric attendance data

 

RELATED ITEMS

The National Guardian’s Office gets it badly wrong again, at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

National Guardian looks set to throw Freedom To Speak Up Guardians under the government’s bus too

The government will inevitably brush off the West Suffolk scandal and shrug its shoulders. It has little intention of ensuring good whistleblowing governance in the UK, as to do so would shift the balance of power to ordinary people.

Meaningful reform of UK whistleblowing law and enforcement structure is needed.

Replacing the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)

 

Steve Dunn chief executive of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, selfie enthusiast and Freedom To Speak Up project supporter (see lanyard), posing with Matt Hancock Secretary of State for Health:

Steve Dunn selfie with Matt Hancock and Freedom To Speak Up lanyard

Screenshot 2020-01-16 at 02.51.42

Censorship of national health and social care whistleblowing data: CQC’s economy with the truth

By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 15 January 2020

 

 

Summary: In 2016 whistleblowers highlighted Care Quality Commission (CQC) secrecy about whistleblowing activity by the staff of regulated health and social care organisations. CQC blustered but began to reluctantly publish cursory whistleblowing data in 2017. Under the Freedom of Information Act CQC also provided two years’ of national whistleblowing data on specific health and social care providers from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2017. The same FOI request was submitted again last November for update whistleblowing data from 2017/18 and 2018/19. CQC unlawfully delayed in its response to this request for no good reason. The data is easily retrievable from a central computer database. The data should have been released before the general election on 12 December 2019 but was not released until 10 January 2020, despite CQC being repeatedly chased. When the data arrived, it had been censored to remove the identities of specific provider organisations. CQC failed to argue clearly why it had done so. The missing data on specific provider organisations allows the government to hide a multitude of sins, including regulatory failure by CQC and ineffectiveness by the National Guardian for whistleblowing. CQC will be pursued for the missing data. Parallel to this the government has fought an FOI request for sub-departmental staff survey data.  The Department of Transport has so far been overruled by the ICO, the Information Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal. It will be illuminating to see if the government continues to resist accountability and appeals again. We are likely to see more abuses and government failures of transparency. Our Prime Minister and his inner circle have expressed amity and admiration for Viktor Orban the Hungarian Prime Minister and his administration, who amongst other unpleasantness have been busy neutering their judiciary, controlling information and disempowering the free press.

 

 

UK government’s praise of an authoritarian regime

The political back drop to debate about the UK government’s transparency and whistleblowing governance includes its links with the much criticised Hungarian government.

How democracy died in Hungary

“From the beginning of his premiership in 2010, Viktor Orban has steadily eroded the checks and balances in Hungary’s once-promising democracy, especially the independent media”

Hungary’s Latest Assault on the Judiciary

The website that shows how a free press can die

What happened in the Hungarian media could happen in your country too

A Top Boris Johnson Aide Says The UK Will Have A “Special Relationship” With Viktor Orbán’s Hungary After Brexit

Boris Johnson shaking hands with Viktor Orban.png

Boris Johnson tweet congratulating Viktor Orban 9.04.2018.png

 

Why whistleblowing data matters and gaps in the system

In order to properly learn from whistleblowing, organisations should track and examine themes from whistleblowing data. The government is a great repository of whistleblowing information, as whistleblowers often end up whistleblowing to many agencies on their long and lonely journeys, and are forced to repeatedly escalate through layers of unresponsive government bodies.

Under the ineffective UK Public Interest Disclosure Act, some public bodies are designated as Prescribed Persons to whom whistleblowers can disclose concerns. The Prescribed Persons system is ramshackle and ineffective, with some Prescribed Persons that are blissfully ignorant of their statutory status and responsibilities. Not that there are any real responsibilities that are conferred under current whistleblowing law. There is only an obligation on Prescribed Persons to receive and record concerns, and latterly to report annually in a very cursory manner. There is no obligation under current UK whistleblowing law for Prescribed Persons to investigate nor act upon whistleblowers’ disclosures.

Prescribed Persons or the Pretence of PIDA. How UK whistleblowers are ignored

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is a Prescribed Person but is not compelled to investigate any individual whistleblower’s concerns. The government has refused for over a year to answer a question on whether it will change CQC’s regulations so that CQC has the power and duty to investigate individual whistleblowers’ concerns. The obvious inference is that the government vehemently opposes any such investigation.

This is all extremely unsafe because external whistleblowing to the CQC by the staff of regulated bodies usually reflects some failure by employers. Whether it is failure to create a safe and receptive environment in which staff know about and feel confident in whistleblowing systems, or receive helpful organisational responses to their whistleblowing. Many whistleblowers turn to the CQC after lengthy attempts to raise concerns internally are obstructed by their employers. For the CQC to disrespect and brush off such significant disclosures is negligent and harmful to patients and social care service users, and to safety culture.

Data on whistleblowing to the CQC is in fact very precious, and an important barometer of problems in the system.

 

CQC’s whistleblowing data cover up

The CQC is steadily cutting down on the transparency about whistleblowing into which it forced in 2017, and an example is given below.

In 2017 CQC revealed under the Freedom of Information Act the extent of whistleblowing disclosures that it received from specific health and social care provider organisations over a two year period. This allowed some comparisons.

Granted, these comparisons are very broad and consideration should be given to the varying size of regulated organisations and their different roles. Nevertheless, there was marked variation in levels of reporting about organisations. In the NHS, the trusts which generated the most whistleblowing incidents to CQC were as follows:

An FOI request shouldn’t have been necessary. The CQC should have made such data public as a matter of routine. But it didn’t take the hint, and it did not publish proactively even after the FOI request.

Accordingly, in November 2019, I asked the CQC for an update of the same data, for the period 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2019.

The CQC dragged its feet and was unusually late by its standards in replying to the FOI request. It should have responded before the general election on 12 December 2019 but did not respond until 10 January 2020, despite being repeatedly chased.

CQC FOI response Ref CQC IAT 1920 0743

Moreover, the data provided was excised of specific health and social care provider organisation’s details:

Data on whistleblowing to CQC 2017/18 and 2018/19 by staff of all regulated health and social care providers

CQC claimed some FOIA exemptions that it had not claimed before, listing these in a  very generic manner, not matching specific exemptions to specified, omitted data.

CQC listed privacy considerations (FOIA Section 40 exemption on personal data) amongst its defensive excuses for not relinquishing the data requested.  This is nonsense. The CQC is only allowed to withhold data that might identify individuals. There are no grounds to argue that anonymised data over a long period could identify individuals, except at a stretch where numbers are very low (five is the commonly accepted threshold).

CQC has also claimed FOIA Section 41 and 44 exemptions on information given in confidence are applicable. Again, flawed, over-blown claims which are undermined by the fact that:

  • CQC used to regularly publish whistleblowing alerts for specified organisations in its “intelligent monitoring” data (this stopped because CQC binned its unreliable intelligent monitoring initiative).
  • CQC continues to report on provider staff whistleblowing in its inspection reports.

Similar arguments apply to a claim by CQC that FOIA Section 31, law enforcement, is relevant and justifies withholding the requested data. The CQC argument in this aspect is very thin and speculative. It claims that transparency might deter provider staff from whistleblowing. This is pure fantasy and a misrepresentation of information that is of legitimate public interest. Whistleblowers whom I have known and worked with usually desperately scour the public record to find out if others have raised concerns about their organisations. The general public and harmed patients and families also take interest in whether there have been whistleblowing concerns about specific providers.

Moreover, the CQC advances improbable arguments that release of data could prejudice its Safeguarding investigations and regulatory assessments. One suspects this part would be more correctly phrased: “The CQC does not want the public to know about instances in which CQC has taken inadequate regulatory and Safeguarding action, in the face of considerable whistleblowing intelligence”.

The net effect of CQC’s clumsy censorship is that the data provided tells me little more than the superficial, headline whistleblowing statistics that CQC already publishes in its corporate material.

Why should CQC hide specific provider organisations’ whistleblowing data?

Is CQC hiding evidence of failure of government’s Freedom To Speak Up scam?

Is there embarrassing data about NHS trusts that the National Freedom To Speak Up Guardian has endorsed, or reviewed without any resulting improvement?

Is the CQC helping to cover up whistleblowing by staff at ‘Outstanding’ West Suffolk NHS Foundation, which demonstrated its excellence by demanding fingerprints and handwriting samples from staff as part of a whistleblower witch hunt?

Doctors at West Suffolk hospital ‘too scared’ to report safety issues

Is the CQC trying to cover up whistleblowing about severe NHS strain, such as whistleblowing by ambulance service staff, which tends to be a weather vane for insufficient hospital beds and dangerously stretched acute services?

The CQC is certainly still dumping the majority of whistleblowing contacts in a drawer, labelled as either ‘no further action’ or ‘information noted for the next routine inspection’.

In CQC’s hospital directorate, a shocking 76.7% (1473 of 1918) whistleblowing disclosures are treated in this manner.

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Is the CQC trying to protect itself after the Whorlton Hall scandal, in which a very serious cover up and whistleblower suppression by CQC was exposed?

Internal CQC correspondence by Whorlton Hall whistleblower Barry Stanley-Wilkinson, disclosed to Joint Committee on Human Rights

Whorlton Hall hospital abuse and how it was uncovered

Four resign from government review after Whorlton Hall scandal

Colin Groombridge Winterbourne View whistleblower on the Whorlton Hall scandal:

“I never wanted to speak out the first time. It’s something that I feel I have to do now. We wanted meaningful change – there hasn’t been any.”

Is the CQC covering up embarrassing information on whistleblowing by staff of the provider company in question, Cygnet?

CQC has just issued a carefully worded “Well-Led” inspection report on the Cygnet estate, which whilst conceding failures, has the distinct look of half truths. In fact, it is a re-run of CQC’s carefully crafted review of Castlebeck facilities after the Winterbourne View abuse scandal.

With supreme irony, CQC’s report criticises Cygnet because its Data was not presented to allow trends in whistleblowing to be identified by location over a period.”

Crucially, CQC gives a selective account of whistleblowing by Cygnet staff, restricted only to the year up to April 2019:

“In the 12 months up to April 2019 the CQC received 37 whistleblowing or staff concerns which were followed up with Cygnet Health Care”

This selectivity, and CQC’s severe restriction of the whistleblowing data that it has just disclosed to me, avoids scrutiny of the scale of whistleblowing disclosures that CQC received about Whorlton Hall in the run up to its clearly nonsensical ‘Good’ rating in May 2018, In fact, patients were being abused as revealed by Panorama.

Is the CQC also trying to hide whistleblowing about other highly controversial private providers, who soak up millions in public money, like St Andrews Healthcare which has been an abusive employer, and has in the region of 1,000 workers on zero hours contracts.

What other embarrassment for the government lurks in the withheld data?

I will pursue CQC for the withheld data, and in particular the 2017/18 whistleblowing data for Cygnet and Whorlton Hall. I will try to further elucidate the anatomy of this latest cover up, but anticipate a great deal of obstruction.

Parallel to all this, I have encountered extraordinary government resistance to an FOI request for Air Accident Investigation Branch staff survey data, a branch of the Department for Transport. The DfT was overruled by the ICO. It has since appealed against this ICO decision to the Information Tribunal and then the Upper Tribunal. The DfT has been unsuccessful on both occasions. I am waiting with curiosity to see if the government will attempt yet another appeal.

Buckle up. Expect official deception of all sorts to proliferate. Lies of omission and concealment, outright porkies, lies of distortion, manipulation and sleight of hand, and lies by carefully sculpted implication.

And don’t be surprised either if the UK government makes another attempt to nobble the public’s FOI rights.

After all, that’s what Viktor did in happy, sunny Hungary:

Hungary: Government cracks down on freedom of information

 

UPDATE 20 JANUARY 2020

Meanwhile in a parallel universe, a kind person has sent me a 17 January 2020 report by Ridouts the law firm which often acts for NHS bodies, which says that the CQC has been been expensively but quietly binning inspection reports , purportedly because of concerns that they are “unsound”. The affected providers are not identified.

 

RELATED ITEMS

2015: Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s FoI plans would ‘significantly restrict’ act, campaigners warn

The spreading CQC Whorlton Hall scandal – emerging allegations at ‘Outstanding’ Newbus Grange. Another CQC deception?

Counting the cost of the CQC: Abuse, Whorlton Hall and CQC spin doctors

Ivy Atkin’s death & more CQC evasion

CQC covered up suspected rape in care home

CQC is no stranger to claims of cover-up

“Ministers told the Care Quality Commission not to release its verdict on Basildon and Thurrock hospital in Essex, where patients were dying from poor care.”

Barbara Keeley’s letter to Ian Trenholm CQC CEO about CQC’s whistleblower suppression and cover up of care failures at Whorlton Hall:

Barbara Keeley letter to Trenholm 14.06.2019 part 1

Barbara Keeley letter to Ian Trenholm CQC 14.06.2019 part 2

Barbara Keeley letter to Ian Trenholm 14.06.2019 part 3

newbus grange outstanding photo
Newbus Grange, another ex-Castlebeck ex Danshell, Cygnet facility, rated ‘Outstanding’ by CQC two months before physical abuse became public

After the Post Office Horizon Trial: Paula Vennells, Mammon and the bishops

By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 11 January 2020

Summary: The Post Office has failed to defend major legal action by hundreds of subpostmasters who were seriously mistreated, falsely accused, unsafely prosecuted and in some cases jailed. Some of the victims have died. Paula Vennells, former Post Office chief executive for seven years, is a priest in the Church of England. She also has two central roles, assisting with talent management and advising on ethical investment. The Church’s ethical investment policy includes not doing business with companies that do not promote the well being of their staff. Should the C of E continue with the ministry of a former director of a company which was responsible for unsafe prosecutions, conviction, imprisonment and ultimately, deaths? Does the C of E need to strengthen its Safeguarding approach to proactively review the ongoing fitness of any clergy who interact with vulnerable people?

Post Office Ltd, a company owned by the government which is supposed to have a social purpose, has been trounced in legal action brought by hundreds of mistreated subpostmasters.

Post Office Ltd behaved very oppressively, earning it a judge’s comparison to a “Mid Victorian factory owner”.

Hundreds of its subpostmasters were unfairly blamed for apparently missing money that the Post Office knew could be due to computer glitches in its “Horizon” IT system. The subpostmasters were roughed up with threats and searches of their homes, presented under duress with ready made “confessions” to sign, unfairly prosecuted, fined, made to “repay” phantom deficits, and sent to jail. Many were made ill and ruined, some died including by suicide.

Victim Testimony

Post Office refuses to comment on pregnant sub-postmistress jailed over Horizon scandal

The Post Office computer problem that destroyed the lives of pillars of the community

Criminal Cases Review Commission investigation of miscarriages of justice

Post Office IT fiasco: ‘Decade of hell’ for accused

Decent lives destroyed by the Post Office: The monstrous injustice of scores of sub-postmasters driven to ruin or suicide when computers were really to blame

My uncle took his own life after the Post Office went after him – this High Court ruling is too little, too late

Oxford Post Office manager speaks out after £57m pay-out

“I hate everything about it. I will not go into a post office.”

“…I was told by Post Office that their system was infallible…. At the time the PO assured me I was the only person, claiming it was a computer error”

Tragic Redditch postmaster died before being exonerated of false accounting

 

Post Office Ltd prolonged the subpostmasters’ ordeal for years through denial.

Day 9 write-up: Paula Vennells implicated

This included an attempt by Post Office Ltd to suppress a critical report detailing flaws in their Horizon computer system, Private Eye 1378:

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 05.38.50.png

The Managing Director of Second Sight the forensic accountants who produced this suppressed report is highly critical of Post Office Ltd:

Second Sight’s Ron Warmington breaks his silence

“As a fraud investigator who has, for decades, dealt with real fraudsters and confidence tricksters, it struck me, six years ago, as I interviewed Subpostmaster after Subpostmaster, that these are good, honest, straight-talking people. It was very rapidly obvious that many have suffered life-changing damage because they received no investigative support when mysterious shortfalls appeared in their accounts.”

Instead of taking responsibility, Post Office Ltd harmed the subpostmasters even more with dishonourable and aggressive litigation tactics. It squandered public money that it had a duty to husband responsibly.

As one person put it, “…the Post Office went psycho, going to war with its subpostmasters”

Neither has Post Office Ltd yet repaid the money that it bullied out of bewildered and distraught subpostmasters, based on its unsafe accusations of theft and fraud:

Postmasters jailed and forced to pay millions after an IT glitch wrongly showed shortfalls should be repaid their money by the Post Office, forensic accountant claims

All this took place in the context of a politically sensitive and controversial privatisation of the Post Office, which after criticism of “crony capitalism” the Coalition government needed to vigorously spin as a success.

The Horizon IT scandal was not helpful to Ministers, and indeed David Cameron was forced to respond to concerns in parliament.

And at the helm of Post Office Ltd as chief executive during 2012-2019 was Paula Vennells, who was also a Church of England minister ordained as a priest in 2006 and who was first appointed as a Post Office manager in 2007

Christian essays abound on the ethics and theology of money lending and wealth accumulation.

Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury started life in the oil industry, but as Archbishop he has cut a publicly progressive figure.

He has spoken out on Mammon’s evils of exploitation, the gig economy, modern usury such as pay day loans, excessive executive pay and inequality. For example:

UK facing ‘crisis of capitalism’, says Archbishop of Canterbury. Elite have failed to learn lessons of 2008 financial crisis, warns Justin Welby

His writings have included eye catching titles such as;

“Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace”

Yet Paula Vennells the ordained C of E minister earned millions as Post Office Ltd CEO.  She enjoyed a sharp pay hike whilst subpostmasters suffered depressed pay and conditions.

She partook of the modern fashion for publicity, PR and glossy events.

Mark Davies Post Office comms team together image.png

PV Tweet top team Post Office Events 10.06.2017.png

PV who's for the bubbly

Vennells stepped down from her job at Post Office Ltd last year as the Horizon IT litigation gained momentum, but she continues to hold board positions at other large corporations – Morrisons and Dunelm.

Her public persona has emphasised her Christian faith and tenets of ethical business, including claims of supportive and inclusive employment practices. Her brand was one of trust.

Faith in Business. Paula Vennells: A Profile

Paula has taken biblical inspiration from the young King Solomon, who showed humility in asking God for a wise and understanding heart, so that he could rule his people with justice (1 Kings 3:6-12). Her leadership style has consisted in confronting the problems she faced, setting a powerful shared vision, engaging with all the stakeholders, and widening and delayering leadership. She has sought to improve standards of courtesy and respectful listening in what had often been fraught and ill-tempered encounters between different groups.”

The female curate offering salvation to the Post Office

And while she says her skills as a vicar make little difference to her day job, honesty and trust are big words in her vocabulary.

“I won’t say things I don’t mean,” she says.”

In the Church, Vennells’ business background was an oft cited speaking point, sometimes worthy of revenue generation by some parishes:

CoE Politics Priesthood and Post Offices http:::www.churchesofarden.org.uk:files:1317310561.pdf

In 2018 Vennells received a CBE despite the commencement of legal action by the subpostmasters.

She even endorsed one of Justin Welby’s books, “Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope”.

Her corporate skills have been harnessed by the C of E in a central programme led by Justin Welby, of “Nurturing and Discerning Leadership”, for talent spotting and beefing up business:

  1. A tension between the priestly and corporate leadership of the Dean had led to some early concerns about the programme. However, those who attended were unanimous that exposure to the content of an academic MBA (including marketing, finance, project management and team leadership) was very supportive in enabling them to discharge their considerable accountability for the good stewardship of the commercial running of the cathedrals as major places of worship, as tourist attractions, and as community venues.”

Vennells was also appointed to the C of E’s ethical investment advisory group.

This group’s job is to advise the Church on how to invest its fortune with Christian values in mind, including through the selection of businesses with enlightened employment practices:

Investment exclusions

The NIBs do not wish directly to profit from, or provide capital to, activities that are materially inconsistent with Christian values, and are also mindful of the danger of undermining the credibility, effectiveness and unity of the Church’s witness were they to do so. A range of investment exclusions is therefore maintained.”

Ironically, the group’s investment exclusions include excessive executive remuneration and poor practice regarding the wellbeing of employees and other stakeholders.

Vennells’ social media activity shows acclamation of various Bishops, retweets of their words of wisdom, an offer to sponsor one Bishop’s half marathon and other interactions. A few examples:

 

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 10.09.09.png

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 10.49.36.png

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 10.38.01

CoE Justin Welby PV twt great confidence and clarity

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 10.42.08

CoE John Sentamu flat cap

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 10.45.20.png

CoE Bishop of Landaff PV congrats 28.04.2017.png

 

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 10.27.10.png

CoE Bishop of Manchester PV twt inspiring video on debt help.png

In December 2017 the ecclesiastical press claimed that Vennells was tipped for promotion:

“Priests like Sarah Mullally and Paula Vennells, currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Post Office and tipped for a Diocesan post in the near future, represent a new normal for ministry and priesthood.”

She has shown interest in the appointment of female clergy and legislative changes to enable female bishops to take seats in the House of Lords.

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 11.37.50

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 11.40.41.pngScreenshot 2020-01-11 at 10.50.06.png

But what now that the Post Office trial has revealed such a litany of corporate failure and  disregard for the subpostmasters and their families?

There have been calls for Post Office Ltd’s board to be cleared out and for Vennells to step down from her senior roles in the public sector, which she took up last year after her departure from Post Office Ltd.

Post Office Ltd’s failures and abuses were so serious that there has also been pressure for a public inquiry.

Numerous suspected miscarriages of justice by Post Office Ltd are under investigation by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

One of the Horizon trial judges has also passed a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions because of “grave” concerns about the veracity of Post Office Ltd witnesses.

Clearly, the already very high profile scandal has the potential to further seriously embarrass the Church.

How will Justin Welby et al handle complaints about Vennells’ continuing ministry?

The early signs are that he may distance himself from complaints.

A letter officially drawing his attention to the issues around the Post Office scandal was passed to a correspondence officer, along with a resultant message that His Grace was unable to deal with all correspondence himself.

Lambeth Palace, 10th January 2020

“Thank you for your recent email. Much as he would like to, the Archbishop is unable to respond personally and in detail to all the emails and letters that he receives, so I have been asked to reply to you on his behalf. 

The Reverend Paula Vennells is a priest in the Diocese of St Albans. The Archbishop cannot and does not intervene in the running of individual dioceses and parishes outside his own diocese of Canterbury, therefore you may wish to direct your concerns to the Bishop of St Albans, in whose diocese Ms Vennells is licensed.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.”

There was no comment about the hundreds of Post Office Ltd’s victims.

A general enquiry about how the C of E ensured the Safeguarding of vulnerable people and the related ordination of suitable individuals was not addressed.

When pressed, Welby’s Office responded curtly by simply pointing to a Church Safeguarding policy document.

This document has limited detail on ensuring suitable appointments:

“2. Safely recruiting and supporting all those with any responsibility related to children and vulnerable adults within the Church

The Church will select and vet all those with any responsibility related to children, young people and vulnerable adults within the Church, in accordance with the House of Bishops safeguarding policy and practice guidance.

It will train and equip Church Officers to have the confidence and skills they need to care and support children, young people and vulnerable adults and to recognise and respond to abuse. This will be done by supporting the roll-out of consistent and accessible safeguarding training in accordance with House of Bishops safeguarding policy and practice guidance.”

A related parish handbook on Safeguarding includes a foreword by the Archbishop which states:

“Safeguarding is at the heart of our Christian faith.”

The parish handbook gives more detail on safe recruiting procedure, and requires DBS checks. It advises:

“Any blemished DBS checks or information of concern on the CDF [Confidential Declaration Form] must be risk assessed by the DSA [Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser].”

This is the C of E’s Confidential Declaration Form, as of November 2019.

It includes the question:

  1. To your knowledge, has there ever been an allegation made against you (whether substantiated or not) that your conduct has amounted to or resulted in ill-treatment, neglect or other harm to a child and/or vulnerable adult, or putting a child or vulnerable adult at risk of ill-treatment, neglect or other harm? YES / NO”

Completion of the form is required upon appointment and this applies to “…all roles, including clergy, employees, ordinands and volunteers who are to be in substantial contact with children and / or adults experiencing, or at risk of abuse or neglect.”

Although the Archbishop’s foreword in the parish handbook emphasises the prevention of harm:

“We will work to prevent abuse from occurring. We will seek to protect those who are at risk of being abused and respond well to those who have been abused. We will take care to identify where a person may present a risk to others, and offer support to them whils ttaking steps to mitigate such risks”,

I could not see any requirement in the handbook for ongoing, proactive monitoring of suitability after appointment.

The C of E’s business model has been questioned by some:

Justin Welby under fire over C of E’s zero-hours contract. Archbishop of Canterbury called hypocritical after he rebuked gig economy as ‘an ancient evil’

Progressive Christianity Network Britain: Business Plan for the C of E??

“Recruiting the next generation of church leaders was the topic of discussion as 600 clergy from across London came together in 2017 for Calling London. The Diocese of London invited the ordained Chief Executive of the Post Office, Revd Paula Vennells, to address those attending. Nothing remarkable in that at first sight. A female priest in a high-powered role what could be wrong with that? Except is Paula Vennells really the right advisor to call? Certainly her business like no nonsense approach would fit in well with the current Church strategy. The Revd Paula Vennells has led the Post Office as it has undertaken the largest branch modernisation programme in UK retail history. So maybe a good fit and the right one to inform Church of England planning as it undertakes the largest “branch modernisation” programme in UK church history if the Bishop of Islington gets his way.

The Revd Vennells is not unalloyed good news though if one looks at her stewardship of the Post Office. Many sub-postmasters faced criminal charges as the Post Office toughed it out and failed to admit its IT had problems (despite Parliamentary committee pressure to own up and be transparent there was no confession from Paula or firm purpose of amendment.) Paula Vennells has indeed led the Post Office to profit on the back of its ongoing “transformation” programme. Profits rose from £13m to £35m for 2017/18. However £22m of that increase in profit was in large part due to putting further squeezes on the country’s under-remunerated postmasters and sub-postmasters. The remuneration of the sub-postmasters for the services they provide was cut by £17m, and that followed a £27m cut the previous year (while her own remuneration rose 7% to £718,000.) I suppose this is Paula Vennells way of helping the rural sub postmasters to face reality in the same way Ric Thorpe wants to do to the rural church. Perhaps this is the model the Church of England thinks is appropriate.”

It remains to be seen if the Church will respond justly to the very serious questions raised by the Horizon IT trial.

If the Church’s policy is not to invest in businesses which do not promote their staff’s wellbeing, should it really hire a former director of a company that unsafely accused and prosecuted workers when it knew they could be innocent, leading to convictions, imprisonments and deaths?

UPDATE 20 JANUARY 2020

Christopher Head one of the claimants in the Post Office trial has set up an online petition for a judicial inquiry into the scandal:

https://www.change.org/p/beis-horizon-scandal-judicial-enquiry?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=75df65d0-393b-11ea-8956-efb177e9a8f1

 

RELATED ITEMS

  1. The Church of England has an £8.2 billion investment fund. This is the annual report which gives more details of the investments:

The Church Commissioners Annual Report 2018

2. A key concern is the fact that Paula Vennells has been appointed as Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. A referral has been made to the Care Quality Commission  under Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons.

3. Sorry is the hardest word: CQC, Paula Vasco-Knight and Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons

CoE Justin Welby live well together holding placard.png

“But we had to sell everything we owned at car boot sales, and later even my engagement ring.”

 

Andrew Smith, unfairly sacked NHS whistleblower and trade union rep, asks the National Guardian again for help

By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 9 January 2020

The government’s response in the last five years to the embarrassment of repeated NHS whistleblower scandals has been to spin, spin and spin some more.

It has wasted our money on the non-evidence based, hollow,  Freedom To Speak Up project which serves only as a firewall against whistleblowers, whilst pumping out shameless government propaganda.

There is a copious trail of failure by the National Guardian and her Office, which demonstrates arbitrariness and a bias to protecting the powerful, at the expense of safety culture and patients.

The Disinterested National Guardian & Robert Francis’ Unworkable Freedom To Speak Up Project

A Study in Delay: The National Guardian & Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust

One of the National Guardian’s most serious failures is her resistance to helping ensure redress for harmed whistleblowers.

Some have been ruined after refusals by the National Guardian and her Office to intervene and challenge the detriment that they have suffered.

Poor handling of patient safety concerns has also been kicked into the long grass, because the National Guardian decided to reject referrals from whistleblowers if there are any outstanding employment processes, importantly including litigation. The latter can drag on for years.

“11. If I submit a case review referral, will the NGO definitely review my case?

The NGO will not review cases where:

• There is a police or fraud investigation
There are outstanding decisions to be made in the case, such as an on-going employment tribunal
• There are practical barriers to the review, for instance where the matter relates to historic issues and appropriate evidence may not be available
• Where the available information suggests that minimal learning will be obtained by undertaking a review”

https://www.nationalguardian.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/case_review_phase_2_faqs.pdf

This is a ludicrous position. It allows ongoing harm both to whistleblowers and patients. It also sets up the excuse for another exclusion criterion – diminished relevance and limited scope for learning, based on arguments about the passage of time and turnover of key managers. In other words, defend and delay.

Contradicting this strategy of prolonged non-intervention, the National Guardian’s Office in fact promised in 2017 to recommend the reinstatement of unfairly sacked whistleblowers. But there has been no obvious sign that it has actually done so in the intervening years:

National Guardian’s undelivered promise to seek reinstatement of unfairly sacked NHS whistleblowers

 

Andrew Smith’s whistleblowing case at Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust

Andrew Smith was a clinician, Gulf veteran and trade union representative who fell foul of Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust just for doing his job as a rep.

In particular, the trust – which has a history of proven financial irregularities – objected to his pursuit of concerns that recruitment and retention premia payments had been wrongly withheld from frontline staff.

He reports that there was no adequate investigation of his concerns about payments being withheld from staff, and that a review looked only at a limited period in time, thus omitting vital evidence.

Alongside the controversy about the recruitment and retention payments for trust staff, the trust continued to struggle with serious workforce shortage:

  “NHS Mid Essex: why longstanding problems need ‘success regime’  An estimated £32m deficit, serious difficulty attracting staff and a catalogue of failings in patient safety have made it a cause for major concern” 

Andrew Smith won an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal and whistleblower reprisal, with senior nursing officers being personally criticised for mistreating him as a whistleblower. The trust was a sore loser and appealed, wasting more public money, but lost.

These are some summarised aspects of his legal case:

The unfair sacking of Andrew Smith, NHS whistleblower and trade union representative. A heady cocktail of tainted ingredients. Or how CQC, NHS Improvement & Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust worked together on FPPR.

Even though he had been so clearly twice vindicated by both the ET and the EAT, the National Guardian’s Office ungenerously declined last year to review his case because there was still a remedy hearing to come.

The remedy hearing is now concluded.

Andrew Smith did not succeed in his request to be reinstated, and he believes that the trust did not give a fair account to the ET of the issues around reinstatement.

He also reports that trust management evidence to the ET included a remarkable comment that managers feared he might continue to raise concerns if he was reinstated.

A very far cry from Robert Francis’ utopian vision of NHS trusts being re-educated by the Freedom To Speak Up project to see whistleblowers as valuable assets.

Principle 5 Culture of valuing staff:

Employers should show that they value staff who raise concerns, and celebrate the benefits for patients and the public from the improvements made in response to the issues identified.”

Andrew Smith has now asked the National Guardian if she will support him with reinstatement, in line with her Office’s promise in 2017.

He has also re-submitted his request for a National Guardian case review.

There are no real excuses left to the National Guardian not to help.

Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust is still not safe or well led, and it even attracted an additional CQC rating of “inadequate” use of resources:

Screenshot 2020-01-09 at 11.05.42

The CQC noted in January 2019 that trust whistleblowing governance was unsatisfactory:

“There was a mixed culture within the trust. There were some concerns that staff did not always feel as if their concerns were listened to and managed appropriately.”   

If the National Guardian will not help a legally vindicated, unfairly sacked whistleblower, that would further damage the credibility of her Office.

Especially when one of the trust’s senior nurses who were criticised for whistleblower reprisal went onto employment as an Improvement Director at NHS Improvement.

NHS Improvement acknowledged that the ET finding of reprisal was of concern, and it advised that the manager in question had been spoken to and had agreed to reflect on the matter. NHS Improvement also indicated that it would: “carefully consider whether we need to do anything further.”

If there is no restoration of career loss suffered by whistleblowers, contrasting with job security for those who harmed them, there is no real culture change.

And whistleblowers deserve much better than the unkind, tokenistic and variable NHS whistleblower employment support scheme.  

Andrew Smith’s letter to the National Guardian seeking help with reinstatement is provided below in the appendix.

Many whistleblowers will recognise in this letter the stress and suffering not just to whistleblowers themselves, but also their families.
RELATED ITEMS

The abuses will not end until there is genuinely fit for purpose UK whistleblowing law and complementary infrastructure to enforce governance standards. Replacement law should favour robust early intervention, harm prevention for both whistleblowers and the public, and swift redress where harm occurs. It also needs to recognise harm to third parties, such as family members.

Replacing the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)

APPENDIX

Letter 8 January 2020 by Andrew Smith to National Guardian

Please note a slight error of fact – where the letter refers to the CEO of NHS Improvement, this should say ‘Chair’.

 
“BY EMAIL, copied to PIDA date fao Mr Cleverly Mp / DOH safety reports and CQC Mid Essex Inspector.
Dr Henrietta Hughes
National Guardian
Care Quality Commission

Dear Dr Hughes,

Request for help with reinstatement after a finding of unfair dismissal

I understand from information in the public domain that your Office gave an undertaking in 2017 to help reinstate NHS whistle-blowers who have been unfairly sacked.

https://minhalexander.com/2020/01/04/national-guardians-undelivered-promise-to-seek-reinstatement-of-unfairly-sacked-nhs-whistleblowers/

I whistle-blew at Mid Essex Hospital Services N.H.S Trust, and suffered serious reprisal, including vexatious disciplinary processes and dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) determined that I had been unfairly sacked and that I had been the victim of a witch hunt. The trust still did not accept responsibility for its misconduct despite the ET finding in 2017. It prolonged my and my family’s ordeal, and wasted public money by appealing, but it lost this appeal in 2018.

https://minhalexander.com/2019/02/07/the-unfair-sacking-of-andrew-smith-nhs-whistleblower-and-trade-union-representative-a-heady-cocktail-of-tainted-ingredients-or-how-cqc-nhs-improvement-mid-essex-hospital-services-nhs-trust-w/

I am a skilled, experienced theatre anaesthetic nurse of 28 years N.H.S service, with an unblemished clinical record and specialist skills. I am a Gulf war veteran and served my country.

But since being unfairly sacked, I have struggled to get work and it appears that I have been stigmatized and most likely blacklisted as a result of whistle-blowing. I have been turned down for many jobs for which I am amply qualified. I have either not been shortlisted or not even received responses to my job applications. I can only pick up sporadic, small pieces of agency work.

The compensation from my Employment Tribunal action against Mid Essex Hospital Services N.H.S Trust was not enough to make up for the serious financial loss that I have suffered as a result of being unfairly sacked.

I have a spouse to support and four older children whom I would ordinarily support. However, because of the detriment caused by Mid Essex Hospital Services N.H.S trust, my older children have had to use their savings to financially support me and my wife in order to make ends meet and to keep our home. In addition I am carer for a child, due to circumstances in our family, and the financial uncertainty has been a struggle.

My savings have been used up in the long years of legal dispute with my former employer, and I have no reserves for the future. The stress of our financial struggle and insecurity has made both me and my wife ill. After losing the ET and EAT cases, Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust nevertheless resisted my reinstatement in remedy hearing.

During oral evidence to the Employment Tribunal, one of the trust managers claimed that I could not be reinstated because there were no vacancies, and the only way to give me a job would be to take a job away from someone else and remove the post from who replaced me. I very much doubt that this was true, because contacts at the trust have informed me that there were vacancies and that the trust had to rely a lot on agency staff.

[Redacted] manager…previously advised “Andrew could return, with right support from managers”. In 2019 that changed in 2019 from his previous statement. He further advised the Tribunal that he had not even read the two Tribunal Judgements 2017-18, or seen the evidence in legal bundies. He advised Tribunal that he had based his assertion on the previous managers. No learning appears to have occurred from my whistle-blowing case.

Therefore I believe the trust simply did not want me back, despite me being cleared by tribunal. The same trust manager at remedy hearing said in oral evidence that he was concerned that if I returned to the trust, I would continue raising concerns. I believe that is a completely improper reason for resisting my reinstatement.

I need employment to keep my health and my family together. I was a charge Nurse in the Regional Burns and Plastics Theatres the only one of its type in my area. Non reinstatement will impact on my 1995 NHS pension plans of my NHS career.

Please can you advise what help you can offer with respect to supporting my reinstatement?

I should add that I did ask your Office to review my case previously, but it turned me down, referring me to [NHSI] whistleblowing complaints dept. I was advised non review was because I had an active Tribunal, which in my case took from 2015-December 2019.

I hope that you will now conduct a case review with regards to my treatment by Mid Essex Hospital Services N.H.S trust now Tribunal is finalised.

This is especially as one of the senior managers who was found guilty by the Employment Tribunal of mistreating me as a whistle-blower has walked away from the matter unscathed. She went on to become a director at N.H.S Improvement, whilst I and my family suffer the immense stress and worry of just keeping a roof over our heads and basic bills paid.

I have included you a copy of 2017 Reserve Judgements as it is not available online from Tribunal office. N.H.S.I C.E.O is aware of my complex case via N.H.S.I W.B complaint dept.

Once again following completion of Tribunal process in 2019 my case was returned to NHSI W.B complaints dept, despite my requesting CEO N.H.S.I forwarded it to National Guardian for a case review.

N.H.S England N.H.S.I have been aware of my complex Multi Agency P.I.D.A a number of years, whilst Meht was placed into special Measures June 2015 at the very same point of my unlawful Disciplinary process.

I had warned of my safeguarding and case concerns in Meht and via Multi Agency P.I.D.A 2013-15. Meht managers and Executives failed the safeguarding promised in Francis Reports. Safeguarding also never materialized via Doh or CQC/ NHS England 2013-19.

Please see below time line link regarding Broomfield M.E.H.T System wide failures and success regime June 2015..

NHS Mid Essex: why longstanding problems need ‘success regime’

Not least of all, I am very concerned that the trust represents an ongoing risk to other whistle-blowers and therefore an ongoing risk to patients.

You can obtain my contact details from N.H.S.I W.B Complaints dept, who have an active file. My legal bundles are soon to be released would help a case review and current Regulatory body investigations.
Yours sincerely,

Andrew Smith

Eng Rn1

Raised Concerns in Broomfield MEHT 2011-2014.
Multi Agency External P.I.D.A 2013-20
Sir Francis “Right to Speak up Contributor” 2014-15.

Tribunal case 3202272/2015, Judgements 2017,18, 19.”

 

By day Henrietta, by night Lanyard Woman

National Guardian’s undelivered promise to seek reinstatement of unfairly sacked NHS whistleblowers

By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 4 January 2020

The government’s strategy on NHS whistleblowing scandals has been to manage the news but not to manage the problem.

Accordingly, for the last week the NHS denial machine has been revving hard to publicise the government’s dubious award of an OBE to Henrietta Hughes the National Guardian for services to the NHS.

NHS England, NHS Improvement, CQC, PHSO, NMC, GMC and BMA have led the faux cheerleading to spin a story of achievement. Ambitious acolytes have paid their careerist taxes in fawning tribute.

There is no evidence that the National Guardian has genuinely improved NHS whistleblowing governance. But there is plenty of evidence of continuing serious detriment to NHS whistleblowers

In 2014, Jeremy Hunt, former Health Secretary and Spinner In Chief commissioned thepolitical theatre of the watered down Freedom To Speak Up Review by the then recently knighted Robert Francis.

Some questioned if the knighthood was a reward for the dilution of the MidStaffs public inquiry:

Knighthood for a whitewash?

Francis’ Freedom To Speak Up Review report was a compromised effort, with many loopholes in employers’ favour.

But he managed a few words on ensuring redress of detriment, recommending that the National Guardian should help to ensure redress.

Since then, the Department of Health and Social Care and its arms length bodies which fund and control the National Guardian’s Office have done their best to erase this inconvenient detail. Their policy documents were written to focus instead on vague culture change, instead of any practical help and protection for whistleblowers. And the National Guardian has toed this political line:

  Whistleblowing in the NHS isn’t fixed yet, and this leaves patients exposed. An overview of unfinished policy business.

However, in a rash moment her Office promised in 2017 to recommend the reinstatement of unfairly sacked whistleblowers.

There has been no sign that it has done so.

I have written to the National Guardian as below to ask if the promise will be made good.

Dr Minh Alexander

 

BY EMAIL

Dr Henrietta Hughes
National Guardian
Care Quality Commission

4 January 2020

Dear Henrietta,

National Guardian’s remit for helping to redress harm suffered by whistleblowers

I write to re-visit an undertaking by Russell Parkinson, your Head of Office (copied below) which was given in response to a letter to you.

It relates to the recommendation by Robert Francis in his report of the Freedom To Speak Up Review that your Office should help ensure:

“redress to any patients or staff harmed by any failure to address the safety risk”.

http://freedomtospeakup.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/F2SU_web.pdf

In response to my question to you of 18 April 2017:

“….may I ask if (and if so, how) the National Guardian’s office will intervene by challenging employers who appear to have dismissed whistleblowers as an act of reprisal,”

Russell replied on 5 May 2017:

“Where a case review finds evidence that a whistleblower has been dismissed inappropriately, we will make recommendations that action is taken, as appropriate.  This may include recommending that the employer reinstates the worker concerned.”

Since then, I have not been aware of any case in which the National Guardian has recommended the reinstatement of a whistleblower who has been unfairly sacked.

Rather, I have been aware of subsequent advice from your Office to whistleblowers that it cannot intervene in employment disputes.

Congruent with this, your published advice explicitly states thats you will not conduct a case review if there are outstanding employment processes:

“The NGO will not review cases where….There are outstanding decisions to be made in the case, such as an on-going employment tribunal”

https://www.nationalguardian.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/case_review_phase_2_faqs.pdf

To my knowledge, your case review reports have not featured recommendations for redress of detriment suffered by individual whistleblowers, and have focused on generic governance issues.

Nevertheless,

1. Please can you advise if your Office will stand by its 2017 promise to recommend the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed whistleblowers?

Andrew Smith NHS whistleblower and trade union representative was found by an Employment Tribunal to have been unfairly dismissed by Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust.

Would you recommend a whistleblower’s reinstatement, if they so desired it, on the basis of such legal findings of fact?

2. I am aware of whistleblowers proven to have been unfairly dismissed who have not been accepted by your Office for case review.

Can you advise if your Office has accepted any unfairly dismissed whistleblowers, or whistleblowers who tell you that they have been unfairly dismissed, for case review?

https://minhalexander.com/2017/05/18/national-guardian-reprieves-nhs-employers-but-condemns-whistleblowers-and-patients/

If so, has your Office recommended the reinstatement of any of these unfairly dismissed whistleblowers, and were the recommendations accepted by employers?
Yours sincerely,

Minh

Dr Minh Alexander

 

RELATED ITEMS

There is no shortage of evidence of National Guardian failure. Here are just a few of the items:

National Guardian reprieves NHS employers, but condemns whistleblowers and patients

National Guardian’s Office: Why it cannot be a model for protecting whistleblowers

The Disinterested National Guardian & Robert Francis’ Unworkable Freedom To Speak Up Project

Fake government firewalls against whistleblowers, such as the unspeakable National Guardian’s Office, must be swept away and replaced with real protection:

Replacing the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)

STFU not FTSU

 

 

Referral of Paula Vennells CBE Chair of Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust, former Post Office Ltd CEO, under CQC Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons (FPPR). But what was the government’s role in the Post Office scandal?

By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist

The FPPR referral was first published on 24 December 2019 by Nick Wallis @nickwallis on his specialist Post Office trial website: https://www.postofficetrial.com/

Is Paula Vennells a Fit and Proper Person?

 

Paula Vennells is another senior official appointed under the coalition government whose leadership and actions have been called into serious question. In 2012 she was appointed the CEO of Post Office Ltd, a company wholly owned by the government, through the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). She led Post Office Ltd for seven years, until parachuted earlier this year by NHS Improvement, to the Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

This appointment took place as a High Court class action by subpostmasters against Post Office Ltd gained momentum.

Vennells’ exit from Post Office Ltd also coincided with another golden parachute in February 2019 onto the board of the Cabinet Office.

Hundreds of subpostmasters were seriously mistreated by Post Office Ltd and scapegoated for accounting anomalies, when the company was well aware of software bugs in its computer system that could have caused financial shortfalls. Post Office Ltd accused subpostmasters of carelessness or dishonesty. Some had to pay for the anomalies, some were bankrupted, some were prosecuted and sent to prison. In one of the most shocking cases, Seena Misra a pregnant subpostmaster was sent to jail whilst carrying her second child, and forced to leave her then ten year old son behind:

“She was jailed on her son’s 10th birthday.”

The High Court has now found that the Post Office knew about software bugs in its Horizon computer system for many years. But it falsely maintained that its computer system could not be responsible for financial anomalies. It also denied that it could remotely access branch records and remotely alter information about transactions, when in fact it could.

In evidence to the parliamentary BIS select committee in 2015, Paula Vennells denied that the Post Office Ltd had been responsible for any miscarriages of justice:

“Paula Vennells: The decision to set up the mediation scheme was mine, with the board of the Post Office, because Second Sight, as they mentioned, produced a report in the summer of 2012. We were genuinely concerned about the issues they raised, and the fact that these people had challenges. We are a business that genuinely cares about the people who work for us. If there had been any miscarriages of justice, it would have been really important to me and the Post Office that we surfaced those. As the investigations have gone through, so far we have no evidence of that. As you will know, we are bound by the Disclosure Act to make known anything that we come across that might contribute to that. The difference is that we simply wanted to know, to give those people the opportunity to be heard, because they told us they hadn’t been.”

At the 2015 hearing she maintained that the Horizon system was “working very well” and commented on issues of public confidence and organisational reputation:

Paula Vennells: Perhaps, as Ian said and as you heard earlier, the most significant finding from it is that we can continue to have confidence in the Horizon system and how people are running post offices across the country

“Paula Vennells: Ian said—he is quite right—that the reason we set up this mediation scheme was to get to the truth about this system. The system itself is working very well.”

“Paula Vennells: It does stop with me. Also, therefore, as chief executive, I am responsible for the reputation of and what happens for the Post Office.”

The High Court judgment against Post Office Ltd describes the company’s denial thus:

929 This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred, at least so far as the witnesses called before me in the Horizon Issues trial are concerned. It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.”

Apropos the concerns about unsafe prosecutions by Post Office Ltd and suspected mass miscarriages of justice, the Criminal Cases Review Commission – which investigates miscarriages of justice – confirmed that it was handling  35 cases including 22 prison sentences.

In the light of:

  • Court findings of extreme denial and misleading or factually incorrect evidence by Post Office Ltd and its witnesses;
  • The fact that one of the trial judges has passed a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions about the veracity of some of Post Office Ltd’s witnesses;
  • The terrible harm suffered by subpostmasters and their families and the prolongation of their ordeal by Post Office Ltd’s denials;
  • High Court findings of a failure to properly investigate concerns and improper reputation management by Post Office Ltd;

I have referred Paula Vennells to CQC with respect to FPPR. I have asked CQC to review Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust’s FPPR arrangements. As it is NHS Improvement that is responsible for appointing non-Foundation NHS trusts’ Chairs and NEDs, I have effectively asked for a review of NHS Improvement’s practices. The FPPR referral is provided below in the appendix.

Vennells of course answered to the government, so serious questions remain about the government’s role in the mishandling of the scandal. The fragmentation of the Post Office and privatisation of Royal Mail by the coalition government, after 499 years of public ownership, was hugely controversial, and politically sensitive.

“There was only one loser in this Royal Mail privatisation: the taxpayer”

“Cable’s Royal Mail sale was crony capitalism at its worst – now we need a windfall tax to get our money back”

“Five lessons Vince Cable must learn from the sale of Royal Mail”

“Cable’s claim that selling Royal Mail off on the cheap was a success dismissed as ‘Alice In Wonderland'”

There was much government hype about the Post Office sell off and restructuring, including the photo op in 2012 with Norman Lamb, the then BIS Postal Affairs minister.

Did the government authorise or otherwise allow a cover up of the Horizon computer system failures?

Did the government respond adequately to a 2015 request by the parliamentary select committee, which oversees BEIS, to investigate concerns?

Committee Chair to Vince Cable Secretary of State:

“I hope you will confirm to the Committee that you will be actively engaged in investigating these concerns.”

The latest High Court judgment notes that the legal costs incurred so far by the Post Office trial are astronomic:

“The parties’ joint costs are approximately now £27 million”

Lord Arbuthnot who has supported subpostmasters has very appropriately called for a judge-led Inquiry:

“We need an inquiry and, since the Post Office has repeatedly given inaccurate information including to me, it needs to be led by a judge.  It may be that the best person to conduct the inquiry would be the judge who already has such extensive knowledge of the details, Sir Peter Fraser.  He has done much of the work already.”

Lord Arbuthnot has also called for a clear out of Post Office Ltd board:

 “My own suggestion is that the government should clear out the entirety of the board and senior management of the Post Office and start again, perhaps with the assistance of consultancy services from Second Sight, who know where the bodies are buried,”

 

Screenshot 2019-12-26 at 10.07.25.png

UPDATE 29 DECEMBER 2019

Lord Arbuthnot has in today’s Times called for Paula Vennells to step down from her public roles at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and the Cabinet Office:

“Former Post Office chief Paula Vennells told- quit public jobs”

Importantly, he commented:

“I don’t think if I were running an NHS trust, I would want her to be involved in it”

 

 

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 08.52.25.png

UPDATE 20 JANUARY 2020

Christopher Head one of the claimants in the Post Office trial has set up an online petition for a judicial inquiry into the scandal:

https://www.change.org/p/beis-horizon-scandal-judicial-enquiry?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=75df65d0-393b-11ea-8956-efb177e9a8f1

 

APPENDIX

The FPPR referral to CQC:

BY EMAIL

Nigel Acheson

Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals

Care Quality Commission

24 December 2019

Dear Mr Acheson,

FPPR referral on Paula Vennells, former CEO of Post Office Ltd and current Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

I would be grateful if the CQC could look into whether Paula Vennells is a fit and proper person to be a director on an NHS trust board, under CQC Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons (FPPR).

This is in relation to the widely publicised failings by the Post Office Ltd, where she was a senior manager from 2007 and the CEO between 2012 and 2019, before taking up her current post as Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

Paula Vennells presided as CEO over a period in which Post Office Ltd:

–       Resisted criticisms of its Horizon computer system, which has since been demonstrated to cause errors in accounting;

–       Repeatedly publicly denied faults in its computer system, when it was actually aware of such faults;

–       Resisted concerns that it had treated subpostmasters unfairly and had wrongfully prosecuted some of these individuals over accounting anomalies that were caused by its own computer faults;

–       Continued to pursue and prosecute more subpostmasters over anomalous accounts that were likely related to the computer problems;

–       Aggressively resisted legal claims by subpostmasters in relation to their mistreatment by the Post Office;

 

A High Court judgment by Judge Fraser of 16 December 2019, in a group action by subpostmasters against Post Office Ltd, concluded:

968. It was possible for bugs, errors or defects of the nature alleged by the claimants to have the potential both (a) to cause apparent or alleged discrepancies or shortfalls relating to Subpostmasters’ branch accounts or transactions, and also (b) to undermine the reliability of Horizon accurately to process and to record transactions as alleged by the claimants.”

969. Further, all the evidence in the Horizon Issues trial shows not only was there the potential for this to occur, but it actually has happened, and on numerous occasions. This applies both to Legacy Horizon and also Horizon Online. It has happened under both the HNG-X and HNG-A iterations of the Online system, but far less frequently under the latter than the former. Indeed, there are only isolated instances of it happening in respect of HNG-A, which the experts agree is a better system than either of the other two iterations of Horizon.”

970. I accept the claimants’ submissions that, in terms of likelihood, there was a significant and material risk on occasion of branch accounts being affected in the way alleged by the claimants by bugs, errors and defects.”

 Judge Fraser also found that both Fujitsu, the company responsible for the Horizons computer system, and to a lesser extent Post Office Ltd, had remote access to branch records and could “insert, inject, edit or delete transaction data or data in branch accounts”.

On 11 December 2019 the Post Office Ltd and subpostmaster claimants in the group legal action against Post Office Ltd issued a joint statement, after coming to  a settlement.

In this joint statement, Post Office Ltd accepted that it had got things wrong:

We accept that, in the past, we got things wrong in our dealings with a number of postmasters and we look forward to moving ahead now, with our new CEO currently leading a major overhaul of our engagement and relationship with postmasters”

Lord Arbuthnot who has supported the subpostmasters, has called for a public inquiry into the very serious failings by Post Office Ltd, and noted that the subpostmasters had been fully vindicated:

“The subpostmasters have been vindicated in every respect.  It is an excellent Christmas present, but won at great cost.  The cost falls partly on the taxpayer but also heavily on the subpostmasters themselves, who will have their damages reduced by the amount the litigation funders will (justifiably) deduct.”

https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019/12/lord-arbuthnot-demands-judge-led.html

Post Office Ltd has been very heavily criticised for its prolonged attempts over several years to cover up its failings and its abuse of power, to the extent of scapegoating and punishing subpostmasters when it knew that there were faults in its computer system.

Judge Fraser the High Court judge who oversaw the most recent litigation against Post Office Ltd has criticised Post Office Ltd’s behaviour and extreme denial in the most serious terms:

928 The approach by the Post Office to the evidence of someone such as Mr Latif demonstrates a simple institutional obstinacy or refusal to consider any possible alternatives to their view of Horizon, which was maintained regardless of the weight of factual evidence to the contrary. That approach by the Post Office was continued, even though now there is also considerable expert evidence to the contrary as well (and much of it agreed expert evidence on the existence of numerous bugs).”

929 This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred, at least so far as the witnesses called before me in the Horizon Issues trial are concerned. It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.”

930 When real world examples such as Mr Latif’s are put together with the expert evidence that I have accepted – or even with Dr Worden’s lower figure for accepted bugs of 11 different ones – it can be seen that this institutional obstinacy by the Post Office amounts to little more than repeated assertions that the Horizon system (both Legacy and Online) cannot be to blame for the claimants’ experiences, coupled with (for some) challenges to the claimants’ witnesses because the Post Office simply cannot accept their factual accounts.”

 The extreme organisational denial was juxtaposed with abundant evidence of incidents caused by bugs in the Horizon computer system. Judge Fraser noted that one of the known software bugs in the Horizon computer system, the so-called “Dalmellington Bug” was known to have caused numerous incidents dating back to 2010:

Screenshot 2019-12-23 at 23.51.29

Judge Fraser noted an important comment by a Fujitsu employee which threw light on the fact that Horizon software bugs had been recognised for many years:

925. One notable example is the expression used by Anne Chambers – “this bug has been around for years” – in February 2006.”

Judge Fraser noted that contemporaneous documents recorded that Post Office Ltd staff had seen the computer faults and had ruled out user error:

940. I have already explained that the subject matter of the Simetra case is very different to this one, and I emphasise here that my analysis of the contemporaneous documents is in respect of the Horizon Issues in the context of this case, not the Simetra case which concerned very different allegations. Here, the categories of documents that are most illuminating in terms of specific incidents with Horizon over the years are the very numerous PEAKs and KELs. These emanate from, and are created within, Fujitsu. They are, in my judgment, a very good means of getting at the truth in this case. They show what was going on and the type of unexplained problems that numerous SPMs were experiencing in practice over the years, as they were reported to the SSC. They contain statements made when Fujitsu personnel’s “guard is down and their true thoughts are plain to see”. Some of them also record that Romec engineers, or the Post Office’s own auditors, have seen what has occurred and ruled out user error. Notwithstanding this, Fujitsu attribute user error to what has occurred.”

The judge noted that internal 2009 Post Office Ltd documents showed that the company was aware of faults in its Horizon computer system:

942….”However, we need to continue to manage firmly any over-expectations of the frontline that Horizon Online will deliver improved functionality – they may see this as a missed opportunity so will not cure all the issues and problems that users have with Horizon although where practical, and at no extra cost, we have smoothed away a number of “rough edges”.

Judge Fraser found that a 2011 Post Office Ltd document about correcting a system fault in the handling of Camelot lottery transactions showed that user error by subpostmasters was not at issue:

945. This has nothing to do with correcting excessive carelessness or fault on the part of SPMs. It is, in my judgment, about remedying a deficiency in the functionality of Horizon. That document also made it clear, because there are express entries to this effect, that outages might mean that the system would not deal with the matters sufficiently or accurately.”

The judge found that Post Office Ltd was negligent in its response to accounting anomalies and to the concerns raised by subpostmasters:

217. In my judgment, the stance taken by the Post Office at the time in 2013 demonstrates the most dreadful complacency, and total lack of interest in investigating these serious issues, bordering on fearfulness of what might be found if they were properly investigated. This SPM, whose branch was known to the Post Office, should obviously have been asked for further details (if further details were required for an investigation), and the Post Office and/or Fujitsu should plainly have investigated the matter as a matter of some importance. By 2013 Horizon was an extraordinarily controversial subject; there can simply be no sensible excuse for the Post Office’s failure to try and understand this particular subject. This is particularly reprehensible given that an internal Post Office document in August 2013 showed that Mr Winn’s involvement in this was because his area of responsibility was as follows: “also responsible for resolving specific branch accounting issues.” It was his specific job to resolve specific branch accounting issues, yet he decided at the time that “we have enough on”.

Judge Fraser noted that instead of handling the concerns about the Horizon computer system properly, Post Office Ltd blamed subpostmasters for carelessness or dishonesty:

“517. The Post Office has, however, maintained publicly that it was seeking to be “transparent” about Horizon, and prior to the litigation it made certain public statements in relation to the increasing disquiet on the part both of SPMs, and others who became involved either on their behalf (such as some Members of Parliament) or in an investigative way (such as the BBC Panorama programme and other journalists). These statements by the Post Office routinely and strongly insisted that there was nothing in the criticisms being levelled at the accuracy of Horizon, and that losses that were shown in SPMs’ branch accounts were caused either by carelessness or dishonesty on the part of the different SPMs who experienced what they considered to be unexplained discrepancies and losses.”

Judge Fraser noted a point blank denial made by Post Office Ltd in 2015:

““The Post Office wholly rejects extremely serious allegations repeated in BBC’s Panorama programme of 17 August 2015. The allegations are based on partial, selective and misleading information.

    • The Post Office does not prosecute people for making innocent mistakes and never has
    • There is no evidence that faults with the computer system caused money to go missing at these Post Office branches
    • There is evidence that user actions, including dishonest conduct, were responsible for missing money

Judge Fraser noted that a 2016 letter by Post Office Ltd lawyers made the following claims, casting blame on subpostmasters:

954…The Post Office’s solicitors’ response to the pre-action letter is dated 28 July 2016, very lengthy, and states that “the investigations to date have consistently pointed towards human error or dishonest conduct in branches as the most likely cause of shortfalls.”

The judge criticised Post Office Ltd’s decision in 2016 not to investigate one of the software bugs, and noted that internal documents showed that Paula Vennells was aware of the issue and had originally asked her staff to look into the matter:

“This needs looking into please.”

Judge Fraser criticised witnesses called by the Post Office Ltd for giving factually incorrect or misleading evidence, and he criticised submissions by Post Office Ltd. For example:

249. Mrs Van Den Bogerd was in the witness box for in excess of one day, the longest period of any of the witnesses of fact for either the claimants or the Post Office. Her cross examination led to a far greater understanding of the Horizon Issues on the part of the court, although her written evidence was, as originally drafted, extraordinarily one- sided. She minimised any reference to problems or issues with Horizon, and reverted to potential user error whenever possible as a potential explanation, an approach which she explained in her written statement as providing “plausible” explanations. Her witness statement also stated, in terms, the exact opposite of what the reality of the situation was, and I have given examples at [221], [223] and [226] above. Witness statements are supposed to be factually accurate, and care must be taken in future rounds of this group litigation that they are drafted in accordance with the rules. Making statements that are the exact opposite of the facts is never helpful, to put it at its mildest. It is also the opposite of what witness statements are supposed to be.”

442. Mr Godeseth gave express evidence in his witness statement that the Receipts and Payments mismatch bug occurred in September 2010. That date too was factually incorrect. The issue notes refer to Fujitsu knowing about it far earlier, and Mr Godeseth accepted he had seen this document before his cross-examination. That document even records Fujitsu being taken to task by the Post Office about how long it had taken to react, as in “We have asked Fujitsu why it has taken so long to react to and escalate an issue which began in May. They will provide feedback in due course.” Not just the impression, but the express text in Mr Godeseth’s witness statement, was to the effect that the bug was discovered in September 2010 and almost immediately dealt with. That was far from the case, and that written evidence was simply wrong.”

422. Mr Godeseth’s witness statement about this, prior to his cross-examination, presented a very different picture to the one that eventually emerged. Indeed, I would go further, and I find that his witness statements omitted some very important headline points in respect of the Callendar Square bug, presented a chronology very different to the real one, and had the effect (whether intended or accidental) of giving a misleading impression of the Callendar Square bug and its impact.”

294.…Mr Dunks expressly sought to mislead me by stating that there was no “Fujitsu party line” when it came to the contents of drafting witness statements about audit records for legal proceedings. There plainly is; it was used in the Fujitsu statements in 2010 and it was used by him in his statement for the Horizon Issues trial.

565.1 A witness statement was ordered from the Post Office to explain the express, and factually incorrect, submissions made to the court by the Post Office about the Royal Mail’s refusal to produce, at the Post Office’s request, audit documents. The Royal Mail had, contrary to what the court had expressly been told by the Post Office, not even been asked by the Post Office for these. The Post Office’s leading counsel accepted that he had, entirely unwittingly, and on instruction, provided misleading information to the court and explained and apologised as soon as he discovered this.

938. The Post Office’s approach to evidence, even despite their considerable resources which are being liberally deployed at considerable cost, amounts to attack and disparagement of the claimants individually and collectively, together with the wholly unsatisfactory evidence of Fujitsu personnel such as Mr Parker.”

Judge Fraser said he had “grave concerns” about evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts:

““Based on the knowledge that I have gained, I have very grave concerns regarding veracity of evidence given by Fujitsu employees to other courts in previous proceedings about the known existence of bugs, errors and defects in the Horizon system.”

Judge Fraser criticised failure of disclosure by Post Office Ltd:

457. …To see a concern expressed that if a software bug in Horizon were to become widely known about it might have a potential impact upon “ongoing legal cases” where the integrity of Horizon Data was a central issue, is a very concerning entry to read in a contemporaneous document. Whether these were legal cases concerning civil claims, or criminal cases, there are obligations upon parties in terms of disclosure. So far as criminal cases are concerned, these concern the liberty of the person, and disclosure duties are rightly high. I do not understand the motivation in keeping this type of matter, recorded in these documents, hidden from view; regardless of the motivation, doing so was wholly wrong. There can be no proper explanation for keeping the existence of a software bug in Horizon secret in these circumstances.”

Judge Fraser criticised Post Office Ltd’s “extreme” preoccupation with protecting reputation and its avoidance of scrutiny:

946. A theme contained within some of the internal documents is an extreme sensitivity (seeming to verge, on occasion, to institutional paranoia) concerning any information that may throw doubt on the reputation of Horizon, or expose it to further scrutiny. One entry in a document that makes it clear that the Post Office itself had already recognised this is contained in a document authored by Mrs Van Den Bogerd, entitled “Extracts from Lessons Learned Log” and dated 11 November 2015. One entry under “issues identified” was as follows in respect of the Post Office’s behaviour up to that date:

Failure to be open and honest when issues arise eg roll out of Horizon, HNGx migration issues/issues affecting few branches not seemingly publicised.” (emphasis added)”

Judge Fraser noted that Paula Vennells asked her staff about remote access to the Horizons computer system, (and whether parties other than subpostmasters could be responsible for amending records), and that at the same time she told her staff what she wished to say to the BIS select committee:

545….The statement in the Defence was misleading too. It ought also to be noted that the truth did not emerge internally within the Post Office in the email answers provided to internal inquiries in 2015 by senior Post Office personnel, such as the Chief Executive, who posed the specific question in preparation for providing evidence to a Select Committee and asked: “What is the true answer?”

546. She also said in the same email “I hope it is that we know this is not possible and that we are able to explain why that is”. The true answer is that, contrary to her aspiration, it was possible.”

547. She also stated “I need to say no it is not possible and that we are sure of this because of xxx and that we know this because we have had the system assured.” The true answer to that was also “yes, it is possible”.

Judge Fraser has passed a file to prosecutors:

Post Office faces potential criminal probe over Fujitsu IT system’s accounting failures

You will note that the above article on the criminal probe observes that the judge made a finding that Post Office Ltd misled Lord Arbuthnot in 2015, when Paula Vennells was CEO.

Lord Justice Coulson of the Court of Appeal who rejected an appeal by Post Office Ltd has equated Post Office Ltd’s misconduct as an employer with the behaviour of “Victorian factory owner”

“The stamp of disapproval: Post Office accused of treating staff like ‘Victorian factory’ workers”

The Law Gazette described Lord Justice Coulson’s judgment against Post Office Ltd as “damning”:

“The Post Office is accused of blaming sub postmasters and mistresses (SPMs) for alleged shortfalls in branch accounts since the roll out of a computer system called Horizon. Earlier this month it sought to appeal the judgement of the first trial, known as the ‘common issues trial’.

 However, Lord Justice Coulson dismissed the Post Office’s appeal on all 26 grounds, citing ‘a number of reasons which militate against granting the PO permission to appeal’ and comparing the business to a ‘a mid-Victorian factory-owner’.”

In his judgment, Lord Justice Coulson noted that Post Office Ltd’s application to appeal misrepresented findings by the original judge and it had made claims which were “demonstrably wrong”:

Many of the PO’s difficulties now are self-inflicted. For example, as happened during the trial and on the application for permission to appeal both to the judge, and to this court, the PO has consistently put its arguments much too high. It made sweeping statements about the trial and the judgment which were demonstrably wrong. The PO ascribed various findings or conclusions to the judge which, on analysis, form no part of his judgment.”

He also dismissed aspects of Post Office Ltd’s application to appeal as:

 “fanciful and wholly unpersuasive.”

He also criticised Post Office Ltd’s aggressive litigation style:

7. Another aspect of the PO’s litigation strategy which works against them now is their desire to take every point, regardless of quality or consequences. That was regularly apparent during the trial, where the judge correctly labelled their approach as “attritional”. The same approach was still in evidence on the application for permission to appeal.”

Lord Justice Coulson singled out this example of unreasonable, unaccountable behaviour by Post Office Ltd:

 8.….The PO accepted at trial that the written contracts (the SPMC and the NTC) were inadequate as they stood and that some terms had to be implied. But the PO’s proposed terms were pitched at such a high and general level that they were of no practical value. By contrast, the SPMs put forward 20 odd detailed terms for the judge’s consideration. The judge asked the PO to be more helpful: the PO’s pleaded response was a one-line assertion that the terms put forward by the SPMs were denied. Having refused to put forward the detail of their case on the implied terms at the appropriate time, the PO cannot seriously complain now because they do not like the detail of the implied terms found by the judge.” 

 The massive cost of legal proceedings, which have been inflated by Post Office Ltd’s aggressive tactics over years and which will reduce the real level of compensation available to the harmed subpostmasters, have been much criticised.

Lord Arbuthnot has called for a clear out of Post Office Ltd’s board in the light of all the extremely serious failures of governance and probity:

Peer calls for clear-out of Post Office board after Court of Appeal confirms major court defeat

Lord Arbuthnot advised that the consultancy Second Sight will hold detailed evidence of executive culpability:

“My own suggestion is that the government should clear out the entirety of the board and senior management of the Post Office and start again, perhaps with the assistance of consultancy services from Second Sight, who know where the bodies are buried,” he said.”

The final report compiled by Second Sight reported that certain themes emerged from subpostmaster’s complaints about mistreatment by Post Office Ltd:

Screenshot 2019-12-24 at 01.46.12

Second Sight reported on many examples of unfairness in Post Office Ltd’s treatment of subpostmasters. For example:

Screenshot 2019-12-24 at 03.10.30.png

Screenshot 2019-12-24 at 03.07.20

Second Sight noted a denial by Post Office Ltd that it could remotely access and manipulate branch records, which the High Court has since found to be untrue:

Screenshot 2019-12-24 at 03.12.16

 

Second Sight reported a lack of cooperation by Post Office Ltd in looking at cases of possible miscarriage of justice:

Screenshot 2019-12-24 at 02.53.04

Some accused subpostmasters reported harassment by Post Office Ltd staff and intrusive searches of their homes. For example, Tracey Merritt reported that her home was searched and that she was asked to sign a “confession” composed for her by Post Office Ltd staff:

“The confession said that I had taken the money and gone shopping.”

The Sunday Times quoted Lord Arbuthnot’s comments on Paula Vennells’ role:

““These people have been under extraordinary pressure for decades,” he said. “The Post Office clearly knew there were things wrong with the [IT] system.”

 He said the settlement was “not enough” to make up for the suffering they had endured. An inquiry, he added, would root out who was accountable. “It starts with Paula Vennells, but it includes the whole board of the Post Office.””

The Sunday Times has reported that Paula Vennells has “declined to apologise”.

The Daily Mail has also reported on her failure to apologise:

‘Heartless’ former Post Office boss STILL won’t say sorry to postmasters wrongly jailed over an IT glitch

Her role in these matters have been documented by Nick Wallis, a journalist who has followed the Post Office trial in great detail:

The ballad of Paula Vennells

In 2015 Paula Vennells appeared before the parliamentary Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and gave evidence about the Horizon computer system scandal:

BIS Select Committee inquiry on Post Office mediation and the Horizon computer system

Mr Wallis writes thus of the 2015 proceedings:

“During that inquiry, Ms Vennells refused to accept the Post Office had done anything wrong with regards to prosecuting its Subpostmasters, and during that session she failed to answer a question about how much legal coaching she’d received in advance of answering MPs questions.”

As is plain from Judge Fraser’s detailed judgment of 16 December 2019 and the Second Sight report, by 2015, Post Office Ltd was in fact in possession of substantial evidence of faults in its Horizon computer system.

Hundreds of subpostmasters and their families have been harmed by Post Office Ltd’s cover up and scapegoating. Some of the harmed individuals have been financially ruined, suffered grave damage to their reputations and livelihoods, serious damage to their health and some have been wrongfully prosecuted, convicted and jailed. A pregnant subpostmaster, Seema Misra, was jailed:

Jailed Post Office worker: I wanted to kill myself

Some have died.

These are some powerful individual accounts of their suffering that have been collated by Nick Wallis:

Victims’ Testimony

You will see from the testimony of victims and their families that some of the affected individuals have died, some through suicide:

“My uncle took his own life after the Post Office went after him – this High Court ruling is too little, too late”

“Decent lives destroyed by the Post Office: The monstrous injustice of scores of sub-postmasters driven to ruin or suicide when computers were really to blame”

The Criminal Cases Review Commision confirmed that it was looking into 35 cases of reported miscarriages of justice from the Horizons computer affair, involving 22 prison sentences:

CCRC FOI disclosure March 2019

The Post Office Horizons computer scandal has been catastrophic not only for these individuals, but for confidence in an important organisation and the stability of Post Office Ltd. It has cost the public purse millions that could have been avoided if the Post Office Ltd had acted more accountably and responsibly.

Given Paula Vennells’ role at the helm of Post Office Ltd for seven years, during which the scandal was mishandled, I would be grateful if you would review the Fit and Proper Person arrangements at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

It is vital that NHS staff should not be exposed to the sort of risks and harm that befell subpostmasters, and that any organisational wrongdoing and any patient harm and deaths caused by Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust should not be approached in the way that Post Office Ltd approached the flaws in the Horizon computer system.

I copy this to Lord Arbuthnot for his information, and I copy it to Dido Harding the chair of NHS Improvement, which is the body which is responsible for appointing the directors of non-Foundation NHS trusts such as Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. I also copy it to Tom Kark QC in respect of his review of the application of FPPT in the NHS.

Lastly, I note that on 23 July 2019, after Paula Vennells had joined the trust, that the Care Quality Commission rated the trust as “Good” in the Well-Led domain.   

CQC rating 2019

The CQC inspection team was as follows:

“The inspection team consisted of one CQC hospital inspector, an observer (CQC staff) and two specialist advisors (matron and head of midwifery). The inspection was overseen by Terri Salt interim head of hospital inspections”

I found no comment in CQC’s inspection report on whether the trust was meeting its duty under FPPR to ensure that its directors were Fit and Proper individuals.

Instead, there were these comments on how the trust continued to be “Well Led” following Paula Vennells’ appointment as trust chair:

CQC inspection report 2019

Yours sincerely,

Dr Minh Alexander

Cc Ted Baker CQC Chief Inspector of Hospitals

Dido Harding Chair of NHS Improvement

Lord Arbuthnot

Tom Kark QC

 

RELATED ITEMS

This is a round up on some unresolved issues from the Post Office Trial by Tim McCormack @Jusmasel2015:

What else could possibly go wrong?

To find out more about the Post Office trial, follow the twitter hashtag #PostOfficeTrial

Sorry is the hardest word: CQC, Paula Vasco-Knight and Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons

Another turn of the Magic Roundabout: Jo Williams’ referees

Regulation 5, Fit and Proper Persons: Dissecting CQC’s Dissembling

Kark FPPR Review report

NHS Improvement’s Kark implementation process & dissing dissent

red apple amongst green apples

Response to Protect’s proposed changes to UK whistleblowing law

 

Summary: UK whistleblowing law (the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 or PIDA) is very weak and in fact helps to crush whistleblowers. Radical reform is required to genuinely protect the public. The whistleblowing organisation Protect (formerly Public Concern at Work) was instrumental in introducing this flawed legislation. Protect remains upbeat about PIDA’s contribution, but now accepts that the law needs to change. The organisation has put forward a proposal to amend UK whistleblowing law. Whistleblower colleagues, Martin Morton and Clare Sardari and I have reviewed the proposal and provided a response as requested. We are concerned that the proposed amendments do not adequately address the crucial flaws in the UK legislation. In our view if Protect’s proposed changes are adopted, the key gaps in investigation of whistleblowers’ concerns, deterrence of reprisal and to a degree, pre-detriment protection, will remain. Our response is provided below. Our position is informed by the first hand experience of whistleblowers who have been failed by existing legislation.

Martin Morton tweets at @NitramNotrom

Clare Sardari tweets at @SardariClare

 

Protect’s view of PIDA:

Screenshot 2019-12-19 at 09.35.16.png

 

LETTER TO PROTECT:

BY EMAIL

Liz Gardiner

Acting CEO Protect

19 December 2019

Dear Liz,

Response to Protect’s proposed changes to UK whistleblowing law

Your predecessor invited comments on Protect’s proposed changes to UK whistleblowing law and accordingly we write in response.

We welcome in principle all efforts which recognise that current UK whistleblowing law is deficient and in need of reform. We agree that much more needs to be done to ensure that UK whistleblowers’ concerns are properly handled.

We also welcome the recognition in Protect’s proposals that family members can also be casualties of badly handled whistleblowing cases. We agree with the proposal to reverse the burden of proof.

However, as we understand it, Protect is proposing only amendments to what currently exists in UK employment law.

We feel that much more radical change is needed because the current law has totally failed whistleblowers and the public for twenty years and is very unsafe.

Protect in its previous iteration as Public Concern at Work was over-optimistic in its forecast that the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 would protect workers by providing a deterrent, because workers would be able to sue employers after suffering serious harm. The reality is that the inequality of arms and the powerless of workers is such that few can afford to contemplate litigation, and even fewer can see litigation through.

Your organisation’s predictions that PIDA would deliver accountability, in the absence of any provision by PIDA for real penalties for wrongdoers, have proved inaccurate.

The State’s failure to hold any individuals accountable for the unlawful killings at Hillsborough, and the lack so far of any prosecution for unlawful killings at Gosport War Memorial Hospitalafter whistleblower suppression, illustrate only too starkly how little accountability exists sometimes in the UK for serious crimes.

We feel that to now leave UK whistleblowing under the umbrella of employment law, as Protect proposes, sends the wrong message. It frames the issues wrongly as a dispute between whistleblowers and employers when rather, it is fundamentally an issue of public protection. That is what the law must address.

What is required is a complete overhaul and reframing of UK whistleblowing law. We feel the State should take much greater responsibility for protecting the public, and that new whistleblowing law is needed. It should be free standing and revolve around the proper resolution of whistleblowers’ concerns, not any secondary employment disputes.

We are also concerned that your proposed amendment still relies too heavily on litigation. Litigation is traumatic for whistleblowers, it comes too late in the whistleblowing journey to do much good for individuals and the reliance on litigation would continue to fuel the private industry of middlemen who currently benefit financially from PIDA’s inefficiency, at the expense of the public purse.

We feel that for sake of whistleblowers’ welfare  and in the public interest, the law should promote a leaner model of resolution with emphasis on both prevention, and earlier, leaner dispute resolution by ACAS and by a central whistleblowing agency.

We address below some specific points arising from your proposal, with the handling of whistleblowers’ concerns being our foremost concern. Without adequate legislation to ensure proper handling of concerns, all else falls.

Overall, we appreciate the effort to secure reform but cannot support Protect’s proposal as it stands. We hope you will consider the concerns that we raise.

When one of us, Martin Morton, contacted Public Concern at Work in 2008 for help as a whistleblower, the bald advice from your organisation was that Martin should resign. This implies that PCaW had very little confidence in the law to protect and resolve what has since been proven to be a very substantial whistleblower case involving serious harm to many highly vulnerable people, and the cover up of this harm.

So it would seem that Protect has known for over a decade that UK whistleblowing law was failing whistleblowers.

That being the case, it would have been good if PCaW had the courage at that point to speak up unequivocally about the fatal flaws in UK whistleblowing law.

Likewise, it would be good if Protect now shows the courage to call for the necessary level of reform as opposed to settling for compromises.

With best wishes,

Dr Minh Alexander

Martin Morton

Clare Sardari

 

Specific points arising from Protect’s proposals for changes to UK whistleblowing law

 

1) Investigation of concerns

Our reading of your proposed bill is that it does not compel the proper handling and investigation of whistleblowers’ concerns.

It only requires that employers have procedures in place to do so:

“(2) Employers procedures shall include: 

  1. a) channels for receiving the disclosures which are designed, set up and operated in a manner that ensures the confidentiality of the identity of the person making the disclosure and prevents access to non-authorised staff members; 
  2. b) the designation of a senior individual who has responsibility for the effectiveness of reporting channels and following up on disclosures 
  3. c) the designation of a person or department competent for following up on the disclosures; 
  4. d) diligent follow up to the disclosures by the designated person or department; 
  5. e) a reasonable timeframe, not exceeding three months following the disclosure, to provide feedback to the person making the disclosure about the follow-up to the report;” 

 

As you will be only too aware, employers who victimise whistleblowers will often have policies and procedures which say that they will not victimise whistleblowers, but to which they do not adhere.

The legal compulsion should focus on the required acts, not the procedures.

You may feel that your provision for a statutory code of practice will suffice:

“(5) The Secretary of State shall consult with interested parties and require ACAS to produce a statutory code of practice on receiving protected disclosures.”

However, we are concerned this is not strong enough provision. It also sends an unfortunate message. The proper handling of whistleblowers’ concerns should be the prime objective of any well drafted legislation, not material for footnotes.

 

2) Protect’s proposed duty of protection:

“(4) All employers shall be under a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent detrimental treatment by the employer, the employer’s officer or agent, or by any third party to someone who has made, or is believed to have made a protected disclosure.”

We are concerned that this is not specific or strong enough.

Perhaps Protect could consider strengthening this part of its bill. For example:

“(4) All employers shall be under a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent detrimental treatment by the employer, the employer’s officer or agent, or by any third party to someone who has made, or is believed to have made a protected disclosure, someone who proposes to make a disclosure, someone who is wrongly perceived or alleged to be a whistleblower or someone (work colleagues) who has assisted or associated with a whistleblower. This should include undertaking proactive risk assessments when any individual is identified as belonging to any of the above at risk groups.”

 

 

3) Deterrence of whistleblower reprisal

We feel that the lack of robust deterrence is a serious gap in Protect’s current proposal.

We are disappointed that Protect has elected not to call for criminal sanctions for whistleblower reprisal. This seems to us to signal ambivalence about the seriousness of what are sometimes clear crimes of Misconduct in Public Office with fatal consequences. After the Gosport whistleblowers were silenced, the unnatural deaths continued.

Equally, we are disappointed that Protect is not pressing the State to take responsibility for civil penalties against individuals who victimise whistleblowers.

Instead, Protect seeks to burden whistleblowers with the task of pursuing their persecutors under tort:

“(1) If a person causes detriment to another person because the other person or a third person made a protected disclosure, the person to whom the detriment is caused has a right of action in tort against the person by whom the detriment is caused.”

This again seems to us to trivialise what is serious misconduct against the public interest. It is also frankly, an unkindness against whistleblowers who are exhausted and battered, having already suffered serious detriment. Protect, of all organisations, should know what personal toll is exacted on whistleblowers.

The State should step in, protect and lift the burden away from people who have done their duty, and not prolong their ordeal.

Requiring whistleblowers to file tort actions will doubtless generate business for industry middlemen, but it is  not a prudent, just or compassionate way of dealing with harm and culpability.

Similarly of concern, Protect only proposes that a Whistleblowing Commission should impose fines on organisations. We do not see this as a serious deterrent to wrongdoing.

Organisations are used to paying their way out of trouble in whistleblowing cases.  Public bodies abuse the public purse all the time, and powerful private corporations similarly throw money at silencing whistleblowing cases.

What is needed is personal jeopardy for senior individuals.

There should be a central whistleblowing agency with the powers to

– fine individuals as well as organisations

– undertake criminal prosecutions

– refer criminal prosecutions to the CPS.

It has been argued that criminal sanctions would not actually need to be often used. They simply need to be available largely for the deterrent effect, and of course as a powerful statement of values. We strongly agree with this position.

 

4) The proposed Whistleblowing Commission and Penalties for whistleblower reprisal

 

  1. Location

We are concerned that Protect does not make a clear proposal on where the Whistleblowing Commission will sit and to whom it will answer.

Our concern is that the implication is that it will be beholden to the government via BEIS. If so, we believe this is unworkable and that the agency’s independence would be severely compromised by the government’s political self-interest.

  1. Threshold for disclosing to the Commission

We are very concerned that the threshold proposed by Protect for disclosing to the proposed national whistleblowing agency is too high and will advantage employers:

“(ii) that the information disclosed, and any allegation contained in it, are substantially true”

Inexperienced workers need to be able to disclose on lesser grounds in order to receive advice on what to do, without losing protection.

We strongly believe that Protect should withdraw the “substantially true” test, especially as workers may need to contact the national whistleblowing agency for general advice and information before formally whistleblowing.

The test should only be one of “reasonable belief” at most.

  1. Commission’s powers and penalties for whistleblower reprisal

We do not feel the range of powers proposed for the whistleblowing agency are sufficient.

Protect’s proposals do not give the Commission the necessary powers to intervene swiftly and resolve individual cases quickly to prevent irreparable harm to the public and to whistleblowers.

The Commission should have the powers to remedy detriment, both financial and in kind – for example, restoring lost seniority, removing unfair appraisals, ensuring safe redeployment or alternatively, reinstating etc…

It should also have the powers as described above to apply civil and criminal sanctions for whistleblower reprisal.

 

5) Protect’s proposals on Prescribed Persons

We are concerned that Protect’s proposals regarding Prescribed Persons do not go the heart of what is wrong with the Prescribed Person system, and do not add much value.

The proposals do not standardise what powers Prescribed Persons should have with respect to whistleblowing disclosures and importantly, they do not ensure that all Prescribe Persons have a duty and a power to investigate individual whistleblowers’ concerns. As we understand it, Protect’s proposals only require Prescribed Persons to set out their stalls:

“New Clause: Duties on prescribed persons to set standards on protected disclosures 

(1) The Secretary of State shall make regulations requiring all persons prescribed for the purposes of Section 43F to: 

a) establish independent and autonomous reporting channels, which are both secure and ensure confidentiality, for receiving and handling information provided by the person making a protected disclosure; 

b) keep records of all protected disclosures made to them; 

c) give feedback to the person making a protected disclosure about the follow-up of the disclosure within a reasonable timeframe not exceeding three months or six months in duly justified cases;  

d) follow up on disclosures by taking the necessary measures and investigate, as appropriate, the subject-matter of the concerns. Where the prescribed person is not competent to investigate, they shall inform the person making the protected disclosure of their intention to pass the concern to the appropriate body. 

e) where the prescribed person receives a disclosure from another body under (d) above, they shall take the necessary measures and investigate, as appropriate, the subject matter of the concerns. 

 

(2) The regulations must require a person prescribed for the purposes of Section 43F to publish on their websites in a separate, easily identifiable and accessible section at least the following information: 

 

a) the conditions under which persons making a protected disclosure qualify for protection under this Act; 

b) the communication channels for receiving and following-up disclosures; 

c) the confidentiality regime applicable to disclosures; 

 d) the nature of the follow-up to be given to reported concerns; 

 e) the remedies and procedures available against retaliation and possibilities to receive confidential advice for persons contemplating making a disclosure; 

 f) a statement clearly explaining that persons making information available to the competent authority in accordance with this Part are not considered to be infringing any restriction on disclosure of information imposed by contract or by any legislative, regulatory or administrative provision, and are not to be involved in liability of any kind related to such disclosure.”

 

The Prescribed Person system currently gives excessive false assurance because most whistleblowers reporting for the first time are given the impression that their disclosures will be investigated, when in many cases they will not.

It is the lack of investigation which needs to change, and Protect’s proposals do not address this.

 

6) Mobbing 

We suggest that Protect adopts and addresses the concept of mobbing, which is recognised under European law. The term “workplace mobbing” was coined by Leymann *, an occupational psychologist who investigated the psychology of workers who had suffered severe trauma. He observed that some of the most severe reactions were among workers who had been the target of “an impassioned collective campaign by coworkers to exclude, punish, or humiliate” them.

It is essentially a phenomenon of organisational conspiracy, harassment and an abuse of power. It features in many whistleblowing cases, as a mechanism by which a whistleblower’s exit is achieved.

Legislating against these specific acts and placing the emphasis on corporate responsibility would help to strengthen the legal protection for whistleblowers.

* Leymann, H Mobbing and and psychological  terror at work 1990

 

7) Types of protected disclosures

Protect’s proposal to extend protected disclosures to: “behaviour that harms or is likely to harm the reputation or financial wellbeing of the employer” 

This seems an incongruous suggestion and we do not understand what bearing this has on the public interest.

Protect may unwittingly be suggesting that people who “whistleblow” on whistleblowers who pose a threat to an organisation’s reputation should be protected.

 

8) Gags

 

Protect’s proposal on gags only introduces what currently exists in the NHS:

“Clause 4 – Contractual duties of confidentiality (Prohibition of “Gagging” clauses) In Section 43J omit subsection (1) and insert 

(1) No agreement made before, during or after employment between an individual and an employer may preclude that individual from making a protected disclosure.

 (2) Any settlement agreement must contain 

(a) a clear statement that nothing in the agreement affects the rights of an individual to make a protected disclosure and stipulate the types of disclosures that can be made and to which categories of authorities; and 

 (b) certification by the independent adviser that the effect of any requirements of confidentiality and the limitations on those requirements have been explained to the employee.”

 

The arrangement in the NHS  is entirely ineffectual. Staff are still effectively silenced  by the continuing use of confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses regardless of the addition of a clause which tells them they can whistleblow. This is because of uncertainty about what is be defined as whistleblowing.

Indeed when one of us, Clare Sardari, contacted PCaW for help in 2013, she was told that her now vindicated whistleblowing case was just an “HR matter”.

Moreover, current and ongoing FOI work shows that organisations simply flout the NHS rules by in some cases not inserting the required clause about whistleblowing. After all, when a worker is super-gagged, who would be able to tell?

We suggest that the law reform on gags needs to go further.

Super-gags which hide even the existence of settlement agreements should be banned entirely. They serve absolutely no purpose other than improper and oppressive secrecy.

Clauses which infringe basic rights such as prohibiting workers from making personal data requests or freedom of information requests should be outlawed.

A standardised, plain English clause explaining what cannot be gagged should be adopted.

This because currently, many are written in legalistic language that would mean nothing to the average worker.

We suggest there should be specific penalties associated with use of illegal gags which do not conform with whistleblowing standards.

END

UPDATE 30 DECEMBER 2019

Protect have today rushed to congratulate the government in the form of the NHS National Guardian, who has dubiously been awarded an OBE.

Screenshot 2019-12-30 at 12.15.21

This defies the ample evidence of the ineffectiveness and unwillingness of the National Guardian’s Office to truly help whistleblowers.

The Disinterested National Guardian & Robert Francis’ Unworkable Freedom To Speak Up Project

National Guardian looks set to throw Freedom To Speak Up Guardians under the government’s bus too

Draw your own conclusions.

 

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What could a new whistleblowing law look like? A discussion document

This is a specific account of how whistleblowing was too weak to protect a social care whistleblower, Helen Rochester:

UK Whistleblowing Law is an Ass: Helen Rochester v Ingham House Ltd and the Complicit CQC

These are collated witness statements to the police about unnatural deaths at Gosport:

Witness statements about concerns at Gosport War Memorial Hospital

Whistleblowers’ concerns were suppressed, allowing further deaths to occur. The Gosport Independent Panel inquiry concluded that at least 456 patients had their lives “shortened”.

The public inquiry into the MidStaffs hospital deaths disaster recommended that whistleblower reprisal should be treated as a crime. The lawyer who chaired the inquiry, Robert Francis, later reneged on this position when he conducted the Freedom To Speak Up review into NHS whistleblowing:

Sir Robert’s Flip Flops

flip-flops-rf

In an unguarded moment, Robert Francis later stated that whistleblowing law needed “looking at”. Upon realising that there was an NHS whistleblower in the audience who was interested in this, he amended his comment to an assertion that the way in which the law was applied should be reviewed:

Sir Robert Francis and Reform of Whistleblowing Law

 

 

Doctor, doctor….Honorary doctorates in the NHS

By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 17 December 2019

.
“Dr” Paula Vasco-Knight

Disgraced former NHS CEO and convicted fraudster Paula Vasco-Knight referred to herself as “Dr Vasco-Knight” simply based on an honorary doctorate that she received from Exeter university.

Postscripts on Paula. NHS England’s apologia & regulatory reticence

This was not challenged by NHS England, but positively indulged.

A congratulatory statement  by Malcolm Grant Chair of NHS England reinforced the usage of the honorary title:

Screenshot 2019-12-17 at 08.55.05

 

Rampant Ranidae

Kermit the Frog was famously awarded an honorary doctorate:

Doctor of Amphibious Letters

 

Dr who?

A current example of the apparent usage of an honorary title with regards to a senior NHS manager, a regulator no less, was drawn to my attention.

I enquired further and was advised by Dido Harding the Chair of NHS Improvement that the individual had stressed that she herself did not use the honorary title at all:

“…she wanted me to stress that she doesn’t use the title at all herself”

NHSI postulated that the use of the honorary title by a government website had been picked up and perpetuated by others.

NHSI gave an undertaking to correct the erroneous government website entry. This implied that the individual did not hold a PhD in addition to the honorary doctorate.

I accepted this explanation from NHSI in good faith, and the government website was duly corrected.

However when I shared the outcome with those who had been concerned, more evidence was sent to me. This appeared to show that the individual had used the honorary title herself.

A video showed her speaking in September 2016 in front of powerpoint slides which bore her name preceded by the title “Dr”.

Some further checking revealed two other similar and recent examples: photos of her standing in front of other powerpoint slides in March and in May 2019, bearing the title “Dr”. There was also a set of presentation slides attributed to her from 2013, bearing the title “Dr”.

Granted, the slides could have been compiled by someone else. But it is the responsibility of speakers to check slides before presenting. Uncorrected errors on at least four occasions were troubling.

Moreover, further searches revealed several references by Monitor, NHS England and NHS Improvement to the individual using the title ‘Dr’, including reports for the board up to 2018.

There was also a Keogh review report by her, from 2013, bearing the title “Dr”.

Of note, the individual was one of the very senior signatories to a letter in September 2017, urging regional Chief Nurses to ensure that nursing staff accurately represented their qualifications:

“we would suggest that you do the following:

• Ensure that all staff titles recognised as delivering nursing or midwifery care clearly reflect their registered/regulated status and consider whether if the word ‘nurse’ is used that this is appropriate;

Ensure that the correct processes are in place as to how such roles are advertised in relation to identifying their registered/regulated status, aligned qualifications and the boundaries of the roles;”

I have sent the additional information to Dido Harding.

Gribbit, gribbit.

 

RELATED ITEMS

This is not the first brush that NHSI has had with contentious qualifications.

Jon Andrewes a former NHS trust chair and Freedom To Speak Up Guardian was convicted for a fraud in which he fabricated his CV in order to land senior jobs in the NHS:

Freedom to Speak Up Guardian jailed

This was NHSI’s defensive and lacklustre response to a challenge about its poor governance in appointing him:

Jon Andrewes fraud: NHS Improvement responds

This is an interesting academic paper about the “proliferation” of honorary professorships amongst senior NHS managers, and the misuse of honorary titles:

So, what’s in a title? The paradox of nursing professors!

David Thompson honorary professorships

Sorry is the hardest word: CQC, Paula Vasco-Knight and Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons

Replacing the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)

 

“Doctor, doctor I think I’m suffering from Déjà Vu”

“Didn’t I see you yesterday?”

Screenshot 2019-12-17 at 09.05.10

The National Guardian’s Office gets it badly wrong again, at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 11 December 2019

The Guardian has today published a truly gruesome story of NHS trust senior management misconduct in the form of a witch hunt to find an anonymous whistleblower:

Hancock won’t talk to us, say ‘bullied’ doctors at his local hospital in Suffolk

Trust managers have demanded that staff give fingerprints, in order to identify the authors of a letter which raised concerns about botched surgery and a related patient’s death:

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 09.10.42

Under the EU whistleblowing directive, such whistleblower witch hunts are banned:

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 09.11.10

But the present government has resisted adopting the EU directive, claiming laughably that current UK legal provisions are adequate.

West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s board are currently favoured and the trust is rated ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission, including on the Well Led domain. The CQC’s inspection report embarrassingly gives glowing praise to culture:

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 07.39.44

Quite a contrast from the staff comments about the trust being like North Korea:

“It is totalitarian, they just spew out a policy of good news. It is like North Korea and you are not allowed to complain.”

Hideously, the trust CEO tweeted a selfie with himself posed with Matt Hancock the Health Secretary, in which he displays a Freedom To Speak Up lanyard:

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 09.22.55

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 08.12.27

 

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 09.15.25

He seems to have a talent for getting along with the powerful

He tweets at @SteveDunnCEO and his twitter biog pic comprises another selfie, wih David-Kerching-Revolving-Door-Confict-Of-Interest-HCOne-Offshore-Behan, the former CEO of CQC:

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 07.42.47

But he has been powerful himself, as his LinkedIn account advises that he started his professional life at HM Treasury and then in the NHS at the Department of Health:

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 09.24.40

Of local significance to me, and other people living in the East of England, Steve Dunn used to work for controversial Neil McKay, who was so roundly criticised by Public Accounts Committee for the. Hinchingbrooke Hospital privatisation mess.

As for Matt Hancock not meeting with whistleblowers, why would he? He won’t even ensure that NHS and Social Care whistleblowers’ concerns are investigated by the CQC:

The DHSC, Robert Francis & National Guardian Cabaret: Inconsistencies & Obfuscation about whistleblowers’ concerns

And to cap it all, here is the National Guardian’s Office thanking Steve Dunn the trust CEO for his commitment to Freedom To Speak Up:

Screenshot 2019-12-11 at 08.33.12

The crass culture of superficiality only provides a smokescreen for executive misdeeds.

The West Suffolk scandal comes not long after another figure who was extolled by the National Guardian’s Office as a role model for Freedom To Speak Up was removed as an NHS trust director in relation to discriminatory tweets. The tweets included a suggestion that people in inner cities should be given contraceptive drugs through the water supply.

Vote wisely.

UPDATE 12 DECEMBER 2019

This is a summary of data reported on Speaking Up cases to the National Guardian by the local trust Freedom To Speak Up Guardian at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust:

Screenshot 2019-12-12 at 00.00.26

Remarkably almost nobody, according to the trust Freedom To Speak Up Guardian, suffers detriment at the trust that is “totalitarian” like “North Korea”. What are the possible reasons for this? Are some staff too frightened to report internally? Or does the Freedom To Speak Up Guardian not feel able to report unfavourable findings such as detriment?

LETTER TO STEVE DUNN CEO OF WEST SUFFOLK NHS FOUNDATION TRUST

I have written to Steve Dunn Cc Dido Harding Chair of NHS Improvement and Edward Baker CQC Chief Inspector of Hospitals seeking more detailed information about the trust’s reporting arrangements and anonymity. I have also asked him if Dr Henrietta Hughes National Freedom To Speak Up Guardian was aware of the trust’s fingerprinting demands to staff, given that the trust had claimed to the Guardian newspaper that the national head of NHS whistleblowing had backed its approach.

Letter to Steve Dunn anonymous reporting systems, fingerprinting, Henrietta Hughes 12.12.2019

 

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Lanyard WomanCulture 4

culture 2

Culture 1

Culture 3 Hunt