Whistling against the wind?
In 2013, local newspaper Lancaster Guardian published an account of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust having adopted the terms of the “Speak Out Safely” campaign. I was invited to express my support for the move and duly grunted a few words about how welcome this would be.
This Nursing Times initiative set out to protect the rights of NHS whistleblowers and promote a more positive perception. Arising from recent exposures of the treatment of NHS whistleblowers, an accepted definition has become established. Accordingly, a whistleblower is held to be “one who raises or reports concerns relating to the standard and safety of care provided to patients.” It can be seen that the intention is to describe one who draws attention to the wrongdoing of others. A great deal of work and trouble has been done to promote this image over and above the negative connotations found in other terms such as “grass”, “snitch”, or “tell-tale”.
As a result, it was less than satisfying to find myself described in the article as “self-confessed” whistleblower. “Confess” is generally understood to mean “admit that one has committed a crime or done something wrong” or perhaps “acknowledge something reluctantly, typically because one feels slightly ashamed or embarrassed”.
When I pointed out their error to the Editor and Chief Reporter, I got no reply at all. I wonder sometimes if those who write the news ever bother to read any.
Even today, ‘Thesaurus.com’ offers the following synonyms for ‘Blow the Whistle’: “Finger, Rat, Sell down the River, Sell Out, Snitch, Spill the Beans, Squawk, Squeal, Weasel“!!!
Russell Dunkeld : Self-Proclaimed Whistleblower.
Lancaster Guardian 04/12/2014:
“A whistleblower giving evidence in the Morecambe Bay Investigation into maternal and neonatal services provided by the district’s health trust has called on former colleagues to stand up and be counted.
Russell Dunkeld, a former staff nurse working for the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT) at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, said that he had given evidence to Dr Bill Kirkup, who is leading the inquiry.
Mr Dunkeld, from Morecambe, said that he felt “supported and comfortable” throughout the proceedings, and urged other would be whistleblowers to come forward.
The inquiry was set up by the Department for Health last year, but works independently.
It was launched to investigate the series of deaths of mothers and newborn babies in the maternity and neonatal services unit at Furness General Hospital between January 2004 and June 2013.
Several reviews took place during this period. However, these reviews have not given those affected confidence that all of the facts have been heard and all of the underlying issues have been resolved.
Mr Dunkeld said: “Dr Kirkup…gave me a very warm and reassuring welcome.
“I felt supported and comfortable throughout the proceedings. I found no reason for whistleblowers to be anxious about telling the Investigation what they witnessed in complete confidence.
“In the words of Sir David Nicholson, with reference to exposing issues of patient safety, ‘gagging clauses are utterly unacceptable’.
“I was given the impression that the panel sincerely intend to achieve a genuinely effective result and I am sure that everyone will be hoping for that.
“If there are anxious whistleblowers out there, they might care to talk to me about their concerns.”
The investigation will focus on the actions, systems and processes of the Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. It will also investigate the actions of regulators and commissioners where those actions affected the safety of maternity and neonatal services provided by the Trust.
Dr Bill Kirkup CBE
NHS Whistleblower Sharmila Chowdhury kindly hosted the Sunday Times story on her webpage.
The Report of MY OWN
Morecambe Bay Investigation
University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust?
• I reported a nurse who admitted switching off prescribed fluid infusions, preventing administration to poorly dependent patients. • The report was unacknowledged, unactioned, date-stamped and filed.
• I reported wages fraud. • The Trust decided that “although it did appear to be fraudulent, the amount was not worth pursuing”.
• I reported an improper procedure carried out on a patient which caused injury and life was put at risk. • The report was unacknowledged and not investigated.
• I had two Formal Grievances upheld. • The Trust used trickery and lies to avoid Employment Tribunal penalties.
• I submitted applications for Renewal of my Nurse Registration. • The Trust “lost” my applications…TWICE…I lost my Registration.
• The Trust admitted causing me a work-related stress injury. • The Trust cancelled my Temporary Injury Allowance without applying for Permanent Injury Benefit.
• I requested ill-health retirement on resignation. • The Trust assured me that my pension was being set up on ill-health grounds but failed to do so.
• The Trust eventually (9 years late) agreed that they ought to investigate one concern…but were unable as one involved was seriously ill ‘on her death-bed’. • 9 months later, that same nurse was found to be living independently and able to answer questions.
• The Trust agreed to investigate another concern (7 years late). • The Trust fell silent on the subject for 9 months.
• I contacted CQC. • The Trust immediately claimed to have completed investigation 6 months earlier.
• I asked for a copy of results. • The Trust ignored the request.
• I gave evidence to Morecambe Bay Investigation. • Trust suddenly “anxious to meet to share findings of investigation”.
• My story was published in a national newspaper. • Trust respond claiming “the lack of detailed evidence available to us at this time means we are unable, so many years later, to substantiate the issues he raised.”…”our Trust, like many across the country, has worked hard to tighten its whistleblowing policies, and has seen a sea-change in the way it responds to and investigates staff concerns.”
Since telling the world that there can be no investigation findings, “unable, so many years later, to substantiate the issues he raised”, the Trust has made repeated invitations to meet me to “share” the non-existent findings.
So was there an investigation… with findings that could be shared …or not?
No “sea-change” there then? But perhaps we can hope that the tide is going out!
Report of The Morecambe Bay Investigation published Tues 3rd March 2015 @ 12:30pm