Guest blog: The appalling treatment of NHS whistleblowers parallels the Post Office sub-post masters scandal

Dr David.E.Ward,

 David E Ward, a distinguished retired cardiologist, formerly at St George’s Hospital, South London, responds to the judgement by Tony Hyams-Parish on the case of Dr Usha Prasad

The treatment of NHS whistleblowers is a national scandal of the same iniquitous order of magnitude as the miscarriages of justice meted out to the sub-postmasters. This latter saga began 20 years ago after the installation of faulty software called Horizon from Fujitsu. Incredibly it was not picked up for years because the victims were not believed or they were accused of lying. The evidence was not properly collated or scrutinised. Or was it, but no-one said anything. “No other post office has had this problem” they were told. Perhaps the current Judge led inquiry will find out. Many were incarcerated. Some sold their homes to pay thousands of pounds of fictitious till deficits. Sadly, some committed suicide.

The sequence of events for NHS whistleblowers is different but the outcomes are strikingly similar. The NHS whistleblowers’ stories are largely unknown to the wider public apart from the occasional one featured in a national newspaper.

The WB raises a concern, which by the way is their duty under law, (Duty of Candourhttps://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2014/9780111117613)

but instead of welcoming the exposure of the defect of a system (e.g. number of beds in a limited space), faulty equipment (e.g. a diagnostic machine) or a process (e.g. errors in admission procedures – wrong patient or wrong procedure) any of which may lead to patient harm or even death), the Trust fails to act but instead embarks upon a path of vicious and disproportionate reprisals against the WB.

The consequence of this chain of events is often catastrophic for the individual. The whistleblowing doctor may be subjected to repeated internal hearings, quasi-disciplinary proceedings, Maintaining High Professional Standards hearings etc. The latter may be chaired by lay persons with a legal qualification but posing as a barrister. Most doctors subject themselves (they raise an appeal) to an Employment Tribunal in the hope that justice will prevail. Sadly it does not. These proceedings are not formally recorded for later open scrutiny. The judge’s notes (such as they may exist) are private and not made available. It is also a criminal offence to make an electronic recording. The litigant can take notes but how do they manage to do that whilst giving evidence or listening intently to the evolution of their own fate? A preposterous suggestion.

Expensive lawyers who support the health trust

There is another major factor in these processes. They could not proceed without the complicity of the teams of expensive solicitors and barristers who support the Respondent. All this is paid for by the taxpayer. The claimant will of course have their own legal support if they can afford it but which is obviously limited by costs. This gross “inequality of arms” is a major factor in the final “justice” handed out. I don’t think many of us would call that fair and just. Doctors are threatened with enormous costs which in most cases could only be met by selling the family home. Why? Oh yes, it’s to force them to withdraw their claims and believe it or not it usually works!

Judge Tony Hyams-Parish

At Employment Tribunals it appears that the sum total of evidence is not scrutinised. Some evidence appears to be selectively omitted at the discretion of the ET Judge. In the Dr Prasad case (see David Hencke’s last blog) the admission by the lead of cardiology (Dr Richard Bogle) that a death which should have been reported to the coroner was not reported but “covered-up” is not even mentioned in the final judgment! One could ask for the transcript to check that this observation is correct. (Oh, no I can’t because there is no transcript but I did attend the virtual ET hearing and can vouch that I heard it stated!) That worked out quite well then didn’t it? To an outside observer who has some vicarious experience of these Tribunals it is nothing short of gobsmackingly incredible in a western democracy (I don’t have the full panoply of words to describe it!).

Former post office workers celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal. Thirty-nine former subpostmasters who were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Post Office’s defective Horizon accounting system have had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal. Issue date: Friday April 23, 2021. PA Photo. Photo credit : Yui Mok/PA Wire

The Post Office workers (Horizon scandal) did not commit any crimes neither did the NHS Whistleblowers. They have not broken any laws. Yet how is it that they have failed to present a case of sufficient strength to convince an ET Judge? Their punishment for exposing potentially harmful processes, which could save lives, is to be condemned, lose their careers, their livelihoods, their homes and in some cases their families or even their own lives. Put simply they are crushed by massive inequality of arms – expensive lawyers funded by the taxpayer. Swathes of evidence is ignored.

Is there some sort of collusion between the judiciary and the respondent or their legal representatives? Some MHPS hearings are seemingly very dodgy (some doctors/victims have observed this and can demonstrate it with evidence) up to and including the invention of spurious legal terms such as “fitness for purpose” which is unknown in British Employment law (see David Hencke’s blog on the Maintaining High Professional Standards Appeal).

Then there is always the possibility of undeclared conflicts of interest in the appointment of an ET officials. Just saying…..

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15 thoughts on “Guest blog: The appalling treatment of NHS whistleblowers parallels the Post Office sub-post masters scandal

  1. well said David! All I would add is that it’s not just the NHS, it’s endemic across the whole system! If you talk about it you’re labelled as insane and tortured in mental prison for thinking/ talking about such things.

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    • Has Richard Brooks at Private Eye taken an interest? David Hencke is doing sterling work. But you need ‘cut through’ for this and it is so hard when the news agenda is packed with Putin’s vicious war on Ukraine. It took from 1998 to 2019 for the Post Office/Fujitsu scandal to play out and there is still a public enquiry going on. Not one perpetrator from the Post Office or Fujitsu has yet been punished. Many should br jailed for their part. Nick Wallis who worked on the Post Office scandal from 2009 to the present day, has done much to raise its profile but stil individual horror stories are not receiving the publicity they warrant. Grenfell is the same. Needs a campaign and the rrealisation that this could take years, but it needs an ‘Alan Bates’ (Not the deceased great actor, but the man who worked tirelessly as a victim an a campginer on behalf of all the other victims of the post office scandal. Is there such a person among the whistleblowers? I’d be willing to examine what else could be done with a PR campaign. I’d need to have a grip on what has been done already. Any MPs interested in taking up the cause?

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    • Yes I know it’s much more widespread but the public don’t know. I don’t feel qualified to talk about non-NHS cases but I do know cases, for example Alison McDermott which are appalling

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  2. Jake is right. One would expect that, as we live in a ‘democracy’ the will of the people should prevail. However, in our ‘democracy’ it has become increasingly clear to me that the public suffers excessive taxation in order to protect the establishment. The mantra appears to be to keep the public poor so that the establishment has ample funds to grind us down. This is a scandalous waste of public resources which does little to promote patient safety or justice. Where is the levelling up now promised as flavour of the month? Equality under the law means access to equal standards of representation. Just try applying for a judicial review on something – threats of being taken to the cleaners will rapidly appear.

    My other point is I thought we are supposed to be short of good doctors. This was not the best use of Dr. Prasad’s time.

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    • democracy? i’m mid 40s now, homeless and destitute for last 16 years ( identity stolen amongst other things) but I for one have never been allowed to vote! Initiated court proceedings over that about 17 years ago….still waiting for a court date!
      Came to conclusion a long time back it will take taking up ‘legs’! you can’t say arms for legal reasons these days….i wonder what punishment that will attract this time?
      https://jakemaverick.blogspot.com/

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  3. For me this pattern raises similar parallels with treatment received by Local Authority workers where staff are forced to press for farness at work against management. I have both experienced such treatment myself and have acted as peer-support for others. Whistleblowing or claims against LAs for Equality, in my case at the time according to the DDA) have been met with initial bullying & harassment by management, This then quickly turns into the spurious lists of incompetence if the grievance process is enacted, along with threats of any future references being affected, threats of falsifying sickness, when the situation becomes too toxic to endure. When the tribunal initiation begins, the process ramps up with regular ‘updates’ to the case being circulated from the LA with bogus testimonies & more fabricated/exaggerated evidence.

    In my case I turned up at my tribunal with my union sponsored barrister, I was fortunate; to be met by the LAs barrister and seven members of the their Legal team! As it turned out they were sent , again fortunately for me, to another waiting room but just the knowledge my employer (former by that time) had sent Eight people from the legal team to the tribunal spoke volumes. After a very long fraught wait, I left without ever having to enter chambers, a very small payment + an NDA.
    I can not calculate the cost just for the morning to the local taxpayer?

    This is one incident I personally have been through but am aware of many others; so I can only presume these patterns are established across Public Services sadly

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    • well, that’s what all those legal people were there for, to coerce you into signing the NDA….I think these days I would have tried to fight my way into the court room for the appointed time, but doubt that would end well either 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  4. We should be very careful: we become more like Russia on a daily basis
    – Leaders who tell unbelievably stupid lies, behave as if laws don’t apply to them, changing laws to prevent them being held accountable, using the system to prevent us from finding out what’s really going on and punishing those who speak out.
    Next step: get rid of independent media. Watch out David, they are already attacking the BBC and we really need people like you to expose their excesses!

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    • I think you have it wrong way around! Russia becoming like us on a daily basis….you don’t see it as it is so much more covert in the westernised world. This is what ‘turned’ Edward Snowden…his employer asked him to write a report on the subject. At which point he realised….basically what I just said there! Smart guy who had the good sense to get out before he was Assange’d or Manning’d…..unknown names are usually destroyed in mental prisons. Zero public knowledge that way.

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    • I did reply to you Sandra, but left wondering where it went again….David’s pretty good on the not censoring people thing here, even when you wander off topic a little bit….so sounds to me like Stasi action again for want of the actual ‘British’ term…..

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  5. Those snr managers at St Helier are clowns of the highest order. They don’t deserve to have competent, motivated, passionate people like Ms Prasad working for them. They preside over an exhausted and demoralised workforce and spend large amounts of tax payer money defending against anyone who criticises them. Remind you of anyone?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The managers at this hospital should be sacked. There needs to be more awareness of the racism within the NHS and people responsible should be brought to justice. Good Job David

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  7. Good blog post.
    Such poor mismanagement and inability to deal constructively with whistleblowing demonstrates very poor leadership by the management – who should at least be reprimanded or sacked.
    How can they possibly motivate their staff and maintain morale in difficult times by such behaviour ?

    Like

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