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NHS whistleblowers still face consequences

Criticism of NHS managers over the treatment of whistleblowers has been reignited by Donna Ockenden’s damning review of maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust.

Her findings come seven years after the “Freedom to speak up?” report from Sir Robert Francis QC, which found that NHS staff feared repercussions if they blew the whistle on poor practice. He recommended reforms to change the culture and support whistleblowers.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 makes it unlawful to subject workers to negative treatment or dismiss them because they have raised a whistleblowing concern, known as a “protected disclosure”. But critics say little has changed since the Francis review.

According to Protect, a whistleblowing charity, 64% of those contacting it for advice said that they had been victimised, dismissed or forced to resign. Shazia Khan, founding partner at Cole Khan Solicitors, says that instead of being afforded protection, whistleblowers are “targeted as a form of retaliation by trust senior management and disciplined on trumped up charges to shut them down”.

Those seeking to vindicate their rights before an employment tribunal, Khan adds, will often be “priced out of justice” by well-resourced NHS trust lawyers who at public expense “deploy a menu of tactics” to defend cases. 

When Peter Duffy, a consultant urologist at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation NHS Trust, reported on allegedly unsafe practices by colleagues in 2016, he was demoted, falsely accused of financial irregularities, and threatened with a six-figure adverse costs order by Capsticks, the hospital’s law firm.

“All my witnesses dropped out after the medical hierarchy told them that the department might be dissolved if the case went badly,” Duffy says, which meant there was no one to rebut the trust’s evidence.

Read full story (paywalled)

Source: The Times, 7 April 2022


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