Whistleblowing under Labour
It’s now over a decade since the Public Interest Disclosure Act was introduced to protect whistleblowers but the bullying of and discrimination against those who raise concerns in the NHS is still rife. Consultant paediatrician Dr Kim Holt used to work in the Haringey clinic, run by Great Ormond Street Hospital, where the imminent danger to Baby Peter was not spotted. In April 2006 – a year before Baby Peter was seen –Dr Holt was removed from her post after she and three other doctors wrote to management warning of tragedy due to failings including staff shortages, dangerous over-working and poor record-keeping. When Baby P was found dead, the hospital allegedly offered Dr Holt money to remain silent about her complaints.
Dr Holt claimed the hospital managers panicked after Baby Peter’s death: ‘They said I had to withdraw my allegation or the money was off the table. They were trying to buy my silence.’ Dr Holt refused to sign a statement saying all her concerns had been addressed. ‘I was not going to be gagged. I must speak about this because it is so wrong. If our concerns had been taken seriously at the time we raised them, then we could have prevented the death of Baby Peter. The children had no one else to speak up for them and we felt passionately that we were letting them down. The response of management was hostile and bullying.’
So what has happened to Dr Holt since she was sent on ‘special leave’ three years ago? Surprise! She’s still on special leave. In December 2009, Great Ormond Street promised to reach a ‘swift and amicable solution’ with Dr Holt after a damning NHS London report largely vindicated her criticisms of the Haringey clinic and recommended her reinstatement. However, Dr Holt has yet to be offerd her job back. NHS management remains notoriously intolerant of dissent, and yet Dr Holt is just the kind of brave clinician needed to speak up when patients are put at unacceptable risk. To support her reinstatement, sign here 1
Sir Ian Carruthers, the chief executive of the South West Regional Health Authority and a former acting Chief Executive of the NHS, is not a man to get on the wrong side of. Former Cornwall hospital boss John Watkinson quotes him as saying: ‘To teach chief executives to listen, I only have to put one head on a pole and put it outside the strategic health authority.’ Graham Rich, the chief exec of University Hospitals Bristol, offered his head on a pole in January, after the hospital failed to hit targets set for it by Monitor and became the subject of an inquiry into its pathology services. But – as with the heart scandal previously – the pathological allegations were long-standing and well-known not just to the hospital management but the PCT, local cancer networks and Royal College of Pathologists. Carruthers should have known about them too, but the culture in the South West is still to suppress bad news rather than encourage open debate.
The inquiry triggered by the Eye in June 2009 is being held in private and may not report until summer 2010. So is there a current threat to patients? UHB’s website would suggest not. The information for patients, last updated on 25/1/10, says: ‘University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and North Bristol Trust have been working jointly for some years to minimise any procedural obstacles to effective diagnosis. Both Trusts agree that no new concerns have been raised since 2008.’ 2 And yet MD has discovered that new concerns were made in November 2009, and that the Inquiry Panel, both hospitals, the GMC, the CQC and the NHS Medical Director are aware of them. Just don’t tell the patients….
Note: UHB have now updated their website in response to this article