CEDAW People’s Tribunal opens with powerful attack on decades of neglect of women’s rights and views

Margaret Owen, first witness at the CEDAW People’s Tribunal

A leading women’s human rights barrister yesterday launched a wide ranging attack on the failure of the UK to stamp out discrimination against women -during the 41 years after the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) was passed.

Margaret Owen,-from the National Council of Women founded in 1895 and which has more than 40 women’s organisations affiliated to it – criticised the government, Brexit and Liz Truss, the current women’s minister and international trade secretary for all contributing to either ignoring or downgrading women’s rights.

She was the first witness to a unique tribunal – the CEDAW People tribunal – which has been set up with the help of one of the country’s leading human rights law firms, Garden Court Chambers. The tribunal will hear evidence and then with the help of judges and leading QC’s plans to draw up a women’s bill of rights aiming to implement the convention into UK law.

The UN convention was ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 but has never been implemented by the UK.

Ms Owen’s position was that women’s groups used to have a statutory right to be consulted about government legislation but all this was swept away when more wide ranging changes were introduced. She thought CEDAW could introduce new procedures restoring statutory rights for women’s groups.

” Now all we have is consultations with the Government Equalities Office.”

She said that the civil servant there was sympathetic but had already told women’s groups that the provisions of CEDAW was “unlegislatible” -saying there was already human rights legislation. Shed said this amounted to an ” oxymoron”.

She accused Liz Truss of having ” a conflict of interest ” in being both negotiating trade deals -including arms deals – with regimes – some of whom were misogynistic – while standing up for women’s rights. She attacked the recent cuts in overseas aid which she said had damaged help for women and girls-partiuclarly in health and providing contraception.

Scottish developments on legislation

Kasey McCall-Smith from Edinburgh Law School

Developments in Scotland, which is preparing to legislate to put the UN Convention into Scottish law, were explained by Dr McCall-Smith, a lecturer in Public International Law and Programme Director for the LLM in Human Rights. She is a US qualified lawyer and an adviser to the Scottish government.

She explained that Scottish interest in women’s rights had grown out of the country having a more progressive policy towards children’s rights than in England.

She said there were three ways of introducing CEDAW into Scottish law. One was to create a framework of law putting the entire convention on the statute book. The second, as had happened in South Africa, was to put it in the country’s constitution, and the third was to introduce sectional changes into individual laws. She thought the most effective was the first.

She also pointed out that the present 2010 Equalities Act failed because it was ” gender neutral ” rather than ” gender sensitive ” to women – when much of the existing discrimination affected mainly women.

She also said the current CEDAW convention- written before the introduction of the internet and social media – should not be regarded as a static situation but should be developing all the time. She said it was important it covered economic, social and cultural rights.

As a US lawyer she said a Women’s Bill of Rights should be able to strike down legislation that would become incompatible once it was law. She added that Britain leaving the EU also had created a problems because EU law – while not perfect- was more supportive of women’s rights.

Women ambassadors told to go to the ” diplomat wives room”

Jennifer Cassidy – Oxford University

Jennifer Cassidy , a policy adviser, and a former UN diplomat, gave a grim picture of the way women diplomats were treated. She said that while the Foreign office always used statistics to show there were more women diplomats, they were not sent to the most important capitals in the US, France or Brussels. In some countries where women were not given equal status, some women ambassadors were told by their hosts to go to the ” diplomats wives room” until they had to point out they were the ambassador.

Wales “gender sensitive” act on domestic abuse

Rachel Minto Cardiff University

The most positive picture was given by Dr Rachel Minto, a politics lecturer at Cardiff university. She said that Wales already had passed new legislation on domestic abuse which was ” gender sensitive” legislation on domestic abuse recognising that most of the victims were women not men. This was in contrast to the Westminster legislation which was ” gender neutral”. She also said that women’s groups were keeping up links with the EU despite Brexit

Over 18000 trafficked people awaiting a Home Office decision about their fate

Kevin Highland, former first Anti Slavery Commissioner

Kevin Highland, former head of the Met Police’s Human Trafficking Unit, gave a grim picture of the treatment of trafficked victims in the UK. The Home Office is currently holding some 18,000 awaiting a decision whether they can stay here. He thought CEDAW could help improve the treatment of women and girls, particularly pregnant women, who have just been offered a paltry extra £3 a week by the Home Office to help them.

He was highly critical of failures by police forces to investigate trafficking because it was complicated crossing police borders – and found investigators had treated trafficking as ” a game of tennis” passing the ball from one force to another.

He was also revealed that the” county lines ” drug dealers who used vulnerable children to carry drugs across the country also ran a ” county lines” trafficking in young girls – often for prostitution. He told the tribunal they often targeted vulnerable children in care homes, promising them a new life only to be dragged down into alcoholism, drugs and prostitution.

Northern Ireland ” years behind in women’s rights”.

Rachel Powell – Women’s Resource and Development Agency, Belfast

A startling picture of how far women are behind in Northern Ireland in gaining their rights was highlighted by two witnesses, Rachel Powell, and Jonna Monaghan, from the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform.

Rachel Powell provided some alarming statistics showing how 30 per cent of women in Northern Ireland, earn nothing, staying at home. Many others with higher qualifications take low paid part time jobs because they have unpaid caring responsibilities.

Opposition to women’s rights from the Democratic Unionist Party and to CEDAW in particular, were highlighted by both of them. The current first minister, Paul Givan, is piloting the Severe Fetal Impairment Bill, through the Northern Ireland Assembly to restrict abortion despite the UK government in Westminster passing an anti abortion bill. The Assembly is at the moment refusing to implement the UK legislation.

There were also fears that the people in Northern Ireland would not get new rights if the EU passed further laws now the UK has left Brexit even though Northern Ireland is still in the single market.

Sellafield bullying cover up: Important three week whistleblowing tribunal case opens

Alison McDermott – whistleblower Pic credit: BBC News

A potentially ground breaking case bought by whistleblower Alison McDermott, a former consultant to the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield, began a three week hearing at Leeds Employment Tribunal this week.

The case of McDermott versus Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and former Sellafield HR director Heather Roberts has been brought under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 – also known as the Whistleblowers’ Act.

Alison McDermott, an HR professional and diversity specialist, claims that the sudden termination of her freelance contract in October 2018 by Sellafield was linked to her protected disclosures containing evidence of systemic bullying, and racist and sexist incidents at the Sellafield site in Cumbria. The original story was reported in Byline Times

Since the report came out the BBC did an investigation into what it called toxic bullying, homophobia, sexual harassment and racism at the nuclear plant.

At the beginning of hearing Employment judge Philip Lancaster told the tribunal: “This, of course, is not a public inquiry into an alleged toxic culture at Sellafield and it is certainly not a forum to investigate specific allegations of improper behaviour on behalf of named individuals.”

The case has been complicated by one of the organisations fighting her, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, changing its stance and is distancing itself from Sellafield. More will come out later in the case.

Ms McDermott faced aggressive cross questioning of her stance by Deshpal Panesar QC, representing Sellafield and Ms Heather Roberts, the plant’s former human resources director.

” I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here”- HR director

Ms McDermott was paid £1,500 a day – the same sum paid to previous consultants Capita -to monitor equality, diversity and inclusion at the nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site in September 2018.

Mr Panesar pointed out that she had taken no action when she first met Heather Roberts who is said to have told her “”I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here.” He said this was a reference by Ms Roberts because of security at the plant where people had to have photo passes. She said she was horrified by the reference but did not raise it with her because it was their first meeting.

Yet later after she had investigated other complaints she had pressed for a formal inquiry into a series of complaints and allegations about bullying, homophobia and sexual harassment. He accused her of ” weaponising” the issue at the plant.

Ms McDermott denied this,

She said Ms Roberts then asked her to take part in a covert investigation to “flush out” issues raised in the report, but she refused and advised her there needed to be a formal investigation.

Mr Panesar suggested she had agreed to take part in an undercover investigation, using focus groups to question staff.

The case continues next week.

Ex MP loses claim for striking out defence and summary judgement in defamation case over child sex abuse allegations

Esther Baker

In the latest move in a long running saga over the reporting of child sex abuse allegations made by Esther Baker to journalists, former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming lost a case for a summary judgement giving him aggravated damages against journalist, Sonia Poulton. The case will now go to a full trial.

Hemming was also unable to strike out most of her defence and the judge ruled that a counterclaim by her for damages for harassment and injunctive relief, pursuant to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 could go ahead. The latter counter claim was also against Sam Collingwood Smith and Darren Laverty, whom the judge said with the MP ” have been in some communication with one another, and have to some extent supported and assisted one another in various activities, not least litigation.”

The judge also allowed Sonia Poulton to amend her defence when the case goes to a full trial. There is a separate case for damages being pursued by Darren Laverty.

The full judgement can be read here. It includes the history of a previous case between John Hemming and Esther Baker and the circumstances that surrounded a film interview Sonia Poulton gave which went on YouTube.

50s women pensions: Flaws in the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s preliminary maladministration report ?

Last week I had sight of the Parliamentary Ombudsman confidential preliminary report into whether there was maladministration in informing some four million women that their pensions would have to wait another six years before they got their penswion.

The report found that there was – but only from 2005. The report exonerated the Department for Work and Pensions for its handling of everything from 1995 – when the Pensions Act was passed – to 2004.

Its official words were: ” Between 1995 and 2004, accurate information about changes to State Pensions Age was publicly available in leaflets, through DWP’s agencies and on its website. What the DWP did reflects expectations set out in the Civil Service Code, the DWP Policy Statement, the Pension Services Customer Services Charter and the Benefit Agency Customer Charter”.

I thought I would check their findings against the release of hitherto secret documents from the DWP following the court case brought by BackTo60 which I obtained when the case was over.

The Ombudsman’s report says it applied the same standard to events that happened before 2005 and after 2005 – when internal documents showed the ministry did have tougher standards for the delivery and supply of information for benefits and pensions from 2006 which strengthened the Ombudsman’s hand.

What surprised me therefore was the lack of weight in the Ombudsman’s report placed on a key document in February 1997 -just months before the general election that saw Tony Blair’s landslide victory.

It read: “Ministers have seen your submission of 20 January seeking agreement to run an advertising campaign aimed at informing/reminding women of the change in state pensions age following the Pensions Act 1995.

“Ministers do not see a pressing need at this stage to run such a campaign but would be prepared to re-consider at a later date.”

Lack of curiosity

There seems to be a remarkable lack of curiosity by the Ombudsman about this. For a start the internal document shows it went right up to Peter Lilley, then Secretary of State, which is the highest level in the ministry. Secondly they don’t ask what sparked civil servants to seek such action.

Perhaps it might be because the the DWP devoted just two sentences in an appendix to the legislation to any thought of communicating the change to millions of people. They decided to leave it in the hope that employers might voluntarily tell their staff. Why should they, surely it is the government’s job? The DWP anyway insisted in the court case they had no obligation to tell anybody.

The second point is that the Ombudsman is right to mention that leaflets were printed, there was some advertising and were distributed in benefit offices and citizen advice bureaux. What they don’t say is the quantity. Internal documents show the DWP spent just £80,000 printing 47,000 leaflets to inform the 3.8 million women affected. How pathetic is that for a communications policy?

Priority given to independent financial advisers

Priority was given to informing independent financial advisers, representing the wealthiest pensioners, who received personalised letters. For some reason, this letter appeared to be missing from the 1,600 pages of documents submitted by the DWP as part of the judicial review.

Yes some £6.5 million was spent by Alistair Darling, the Labour social security secretary in 2001 on advertising -including the notorious talking dogs advert – but ministers at the time tell me the emphasis was then on getting people to take out a second workplace pension to supplement the state pension not on the impending rise in the pension age for women.

So it seems curious for me that the Ombudsman has let off the ministry for this period while coming down strongly against them after 2005 when people had little time left to plan to alter their retirement plans. The evidence that millions of people didn’t know as the internal documents reveal is shaming for the DWP, as is the slow way they reacted to the facts. Indeed, ironically it was only because civil servants feared someone would complain to the Ombudsman that they thought they must cover their backs.

Flaw in the process

My other thought about the report is the process. Normally the Ombudsman might be dealing with one family or a small group of people in handling a maladministration case. In this instance they are asking six people to respond to their report on behalf of four million people. It puts a huge burden on those six people to have the knowledge and time to respond to get this right. I don’t know who they are but I am not sure in this case this is entirely the right process – since they can’t share the findings with other people or get advice.

This is one reason once I discovered the report had been circulated rather more widely than the six – including with the DWP and MPs – that I thought, on public interest grounds, it ought to be more widely known.

Ian Rothwell radio programme: Interview on CEDAW with me and on BackTo60 with Joanne Welch

Here is the Salford City Radio programme broadcast last night. I talked about the importance of tackling all discrimination against women and girls in the CEDAW People’s Tribunal. I explained how the issue had evolved from the Back To 60 judicial review over discrimination against women who lost their pensions into a three day hearing later this month with the backing of top lawyers from Garden Court Chambers.

Joanne Welch talked about the latest developments in the Back To 60 campaign which is a burning injustice issue for millions of women born in the 1950s and waited six years to get their pension.

Revised All Party Pension Inequality Group for Women to act as bridge to get justice

The new Parliament has seen a complete revamp of the all party group tackling the long standing festering issue of pension inequality for millions of women caused by the mishandling of the rise in the women’s pension age.

Out go Carolyn Harris, the former chair and Labour MP for Swansea, East and co chair Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham.

In come Andrew Gwynne, Labour MP for Denton and Reddish as the new chair and Peter Aldous, Conservative MP for Waveney as co chair.

The good news is that the change means a fresh start and a move to a more inclusive approach taking in the views of all the different women’s organisations that represent those born in the 1950s who were faced with a wait for up to six years to get their pension. Unfortunately under his predecessor Carolyn Harris this was not always the case and it was a never completely clear what this group of MPs wanted in compensation for the millions of women affected by the change.

Andrew Gwynne summed up the change succinctly.

“The APPG on State Pension Inequality exists to keep the issue of the 1950s women’s pension injustice alive.

“As new Chairs, Peter Aldous and I are informally taking evidence from all the 1950s women’s groups to get as much information as possible. We also await the Ombudsman’s report.[This is the report on maladministration]

“We recently had a good meeting with BackTo60 who are providing information to us about CEDAW and whether there is a parliamentary route on the issue.”

I gather that as well as Waspi and Waspi 2018 they have asked Joanne Welch, who ran BackTo60, to address a full meeting of the committee.

welcome news

This is particularly welcome news as for years we had a ridiculous position of a major court case seeking a judicial review of the government’s handling of the issue running alongside complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman – with the former being ignored by this committee. The first dealt with the past inequalities that were enshrined by the legislation, the second with whether the Department for Work and Pensions was guilty of maladministration in handling it.

The first ultimately failed but the fact that it took place at all is due to a ruling by Mrs Justice Lang – a remarkably independent woman judge – who decided that it couldn’t have possibly been known in 1995 that the new act would cause such present hardship to a group of women born in the 1950s. She incidentally took an equally controversial decision to save at the eleventh hour from destruction Brandon Station on the Suffolk/ Norfolk border designed by the architect who supervised the stone carvings in the Houses of Parliament. See my blog here.

The great news is that MPs will now look at all proposals from full restitution to compensation, take account of what the Parliamentary Ombudsman finally says, and be able to present their views to ministers who have been extremely reluctant to award any money at all to the 50s women.

CEDAW People’s Tribunal

They have also acknowledged the link to CEDAW – the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women, ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986.

With a CEDAW People’s Tribunal due to be held from June 21 in London with the backing of lawyers from Garden Court Chambers – it also very likely that the plight of the 50swomen will form part of wide ranging submissions covering violence to women, unequal pay and job discrimination.

The other members of the committee are: Philippa Whitford, SNP MP for Central Ayrshire; Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd; Ruth Cadbury, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth; Jason McCartney, Conservative MP for Colne Valley; and Gavin Newlands ,SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North.

Exclusive: Parliamentary Ombudsman proposes to say maladministration by DWP over the rise in the women’s pension age

Sir Robert Behrens – provisional ruling

Provisional findings point to some compensation likely to be paid to women born in the 1950s and 1960s

A confidential letter seen by this website shows the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Sir Robert Behrens, has managed to both exonerate and damn the Department for Work and Pensions for its handling of the administration of the rise in the pension age for millions of women born in the 1950s and 1960s,

The letter contains the provisional findings of an investigation which has taken years to undertake by his office – also wrongly temporarily halted because of a court case brought by Back To 60 seeking full restitution of the hundreds of millions lost by pensioners on grounds of inequality not maladministration.

The ministry is exonerated for all the work it did between 1995 and 2004 – from the passing of the 1995,Pensions Act.

DWP exonerated for first nine years of the announced change

The relevant paragraph reads: ” Between 1995 and 2004, accurate information about changes to State Pensions Age was publicly available in leaflets, through DWP’s agencies and on its website. What the DWP did reflects expectations set out in the Civil Service Code, the DWP Policy Statement, the Pension Services Customer Services Charter and the Benefit Agency Customer Charter”.

But the provisional report go on to make findings of maladministration for the department’s handling of events from 2005 to 2007 when it belatedly found out through internal research that people still did not know about the change and needed targeted information.

The report reveals that at the time the ministry had a sufficient database to have issued targeted information to people who were affected by 2005. But the huge delay in sending out letters meant in the worse case scenario many women did not get an official letter until 14 years after the event. The letter quotes Paul Lewis, a financial campaigning journalist, saying on average women born in the 1950s did not get a letter until one year and four months before they turned 60.

DWP ” did not get it right “

It says: ” We think DWP’s decision making following the 2003/04 research failed to give due weight to relevant considerations, including what research showed about the need for ” appropriately targeted” information, what was known about the need for individually tailored information, or how likely it was doing the same thing would achieve different results. It failed to make a reasonable decision about next steps. In Augusts 2005 DWP did not ” get it right”. And its failure to use feedback to improve service delivery meant it did not seek continuous improvement. Our provisional view is that it was maladministration.”

” We think DWP then failed to act promptly on its 2006 proposal to write directly to affected women, or to give due weight to how much time had already been lost.. It did not get it right because it did not meet the requirements of the Civil Service Code and it did not take all relevant considerations into account. And it failed again to use feedback to improve service delivery and seek continuous improvement.. Our provisional view is that was also maladministration.”

” We think maladministration led to a delay in DWP writing directly to women about changes in the state pension age. In our view that letters would have been issued around 28 months earlier than they were if the maladministration had not happened.”

This led to women who were not aware of the changes being given less time to make changes to their retirement plans. ” The next stage of our investigation will consider the impact that injustice had.”

The report seems to exonerate Whitehall for the way it handled the pension changes in 2011 with letters going out 18 months after the further change. But because of a huge delay in sending out letters to the women affected by the changes in 1995 many did not know until just before they thought they were going to retire.

CEDAW People’s Tribunal: Links for hearing announced

The long awaited UN Convention for the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women People’s Tribunal will take place in London for three days at the end of the month.

Here is the announcement:

 CEDAW PEOPLE’S TRIBUNAL   You are warmly invited to view the Tribunal Hearings which take place between 9-5pm on these 3 dates:- Monday 21st June  21          View Here 
Tuesday 22nd June  21        View Here  
Wednesday 23rd June 21     View Here  

The inquisitorial Tribunal will examine a body of evidence out of which a body of learning will evolve. Opening and Closing Statements by Garden Court Chambers will be followed on the final day by the President of the Independent Judges Panel’s ‘Brief Summary’. A Report will be published ahead of August Bank Holiday accompanied by a film where more information will also be shared.

Huge interest

Since there is a lot of interest by holding the hearings on line to reach the maximum number of people. The hearings will be chaired as reported before by leading QC’s and Barristers from Garden Court Chambers.

For full details of all the people involved please see my previous blogs for their profiles. More details about the issues to be debated will be published later but it is expected to comprehensively cover all the points in the Convention about discrimination against women and girls.

My previous blogs on the issue are here:

https://davidhencke.com/2021/04/08/womens-discrimination-what-is-cedaw/ https://davidhencke.com/2021/03/31/independent-panel-of-judges-announced-to-head-tribunal-examining-discrimination-against-women/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/05/05/exclusive-whats-missing-for-womens-rights-in-the-uk-former-judge-dr-jocelynne-scutt-and-former-chief-prosecutor-nazil-afzal-talk-about-cedaw/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/05/14/exclusive-londons-largest-human-rights-law-chambers-backs-initiative-to-end-all-discrimination-against-women-in-the-uk/

Later in the same week the Labour Party’s Women Conference will also be debating a motion to commit the party to supporting the UN Convention into British domestic law. The Scottish National Party is already committed to implementing the convention into Scottish law and has started to prepare to do this after winning the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May.

Book review: Home Truths and the disaster facing the Tory Party if it can’t help Generation Rent

Liam Halligan Pic credit: Twitter

This is a humdinger of a book. Its author Liam Halligan – a cerebral Brexiteer rather than a flag waving, Rule Britannia supporter – exposes and then tries to solve – the biggest crisis facing the younger generation. They either can’t afford to buy their own home or haven’t a hope in hell if they are poor in getting social housing.

The huge hype in house and land prices – which is still going on despite the pandemic – is exposed in this book as part of deliberate policy by landowners and an oligopoly of huge house builders – to maximise profits, provide sub standard new homes and prevent any changes in planning laws which would release land for housing.

The government is committed to ” build, build, build” hundreds of thousands of new homes for the young generation who increasingly are having wait until they are 40, if they are lucky, to own their own home. Like many political promises this is unlikely to materialise under present government policies and he explains in graphic detail why this will not work.

Instead by subsidising buyers under the Help to Buy scheme they are fueling house price rises and only helping the better off – who also get help from the Bank of Mum and Dad – to acquire a home.

Home Truths book

This well researched book shows that Attlee’s government had the idea of how to both build a lot of council housing and incentivise builders to expand home ownership. But both aims have been destroyed by successive governments -including the error under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – not to build any council houses.

The current Tory promise is undermined by the fact – exposed in the book – that the party is hamstrung by its donors – many of whom are committed to making more money by keeping house prices high and building land rationed. The big builders have also gobbled up many of the small builders – the very people who have incentives to build homes fast – to strengthen their monopoly.

The result was in 2017 that Jeremy Corbyn garnered votes from the young frustrated at having to eke out of their lives in either overpriced rent sharing properties or stay at home with mum and dad while they were in their 30s. Now without Jeremy Corbyn around to scare the Tories, the government might think they can still get away with it.

Ian Mulheirn Pic credit: Institute for Global Change

Labour need to step up to this problem. They are not financed by landowners. One thing they shouldn’t do is take any notice of the Tony Blair Institute. The former PM’s chief policy maker actually believes there is no housing shortage. Ian Mulheirn is using Blair’s platform to peddle the idea and argue that we should not build hundreds of thousands of new homes. Presumably he is happy for the young to pay ever increasing rents or stay with their parents., The big builders and private landlords must love him.

What is good about this book is that the author also proposes solutions which are pretty radical and involve a major reform of planning legislation ,changes to the value of land and penalties for builders who just hang on to sites. And a major social housing programme as well. Well worth a read. If the Tories don’t act they risk alienating a whole generation.

Electoral rolls falling and Millennials head for Spain

I have added a couple of my own blogs that illustrate the results that the author hasn’t mentioned. One shows the declining electorate in central London because so many properties are going to overseas buyers and are used as AirBnB’s. The others show that if we are not careful this permanently rising market could be used for property developers to take over the care home market. The third is a very recent article in the i paper showing that the millennials are voting with their feet and helping fuel a Spanish property boom. Talented tech savvy young Brits are finding you can rent a whole villa in Marbella for the price of a crummy flat share in London and they are basing themselves there. The country is starting to lose vital young talent.

https://bylinetimes.com/2019/12/05/zombie-neighbourhoods-londons-disappearing-voters/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/03/15/how-the-genteel-retiree-world-of-centenarians-was-shattered-by-the-ruthless-modern-model-of-social-care-capitalism/

https://inews.co.uk/news/uk/costa-del-covid-millennials-swap-uk-drizzle-work-remotely-spain-gain-post-brexit-rights-1003386

Unfit for Purpose: The NHS appeal panel that upheld the sacking of Dr Usha Prasad

Earlier this month the appeal panel set up by the Epsom and St Helier University NHS Trust under Mrs Claire McLaughlan rejected the appeal by Dr Usha Prasad, the cardiologist, against her sacking. She is said to be ” unfit for purpose”. For many the verdict was thought to be inevitable given the enormous lengths the trust had gone to dismiss her, but the findings are worth highlighting because it is a perfect example of why this internal system is in disrepute and needs to be scrapped.

The unwieldly nature of the Maintaining High Professional Standards Appeal system set up in 2003 by the NHS is itself “unfit for purpose” as illustrated by an enlightening article in the Health Services Journal by Alastair Currie, a partner with the law firm Bevan Brittan.

“No sane NHS manager would use MHPS”

He wrote: “MHPS is a calamitous mess of a document,” and goes on to say:

“MHPS, at 59 pages, is a bloated mixture of inconsistent policy verbiage and labyrinthine procedure. It seems designed to promote High Court debate … and so it often does. There is a devastating trail of case-law left by MHPS, each case involving a doctor or dentist and their employer becoming miserably entrenched in MHPS for years before landing in the courts.”

“No sane manager wants to touch MHPS, let alone use it frequently or to intervene early in borderline bad practice. It is well known that any attempt to use MHPS risks years of disputes and litigation.”

So it is a supreme irony that the law firm Bevan Brittan is the very company that facilitated the MHPS hearing on the Usha Prasad case. While Alastair Currie denounced the system in the most colourful language, his colleague Tim Gooder, was fixing up the arrangements for the hearing. Still never get between a law firm and their business to make money. I wonder which ” insane” manager from the trust engaged them.

Now to the hearing itself. The report begins with a desperate defence that the three main members of the panel are independent. Claire McLaughlan emphasises that she is a non practising barrister. What she should have said, I am told, is that she is an unregistered barrister because she has never worked for a law firm and never completed any pupillage. The analogy which she should know is that a qualified doctor is not properly qualified until he or she has worked in a hospital.

Dr Zoe Penn has a high flying job as a medical director and lead for professional standards at NHS England and Improvement (London region). She, I understand, has refused to communicate any explanation of the decision hiding behind the “labyrinthine procedure” of MPHS.

And Ms Aruna Mehta, a former banker and non executive director of the trust, I gather was appointed to the trust without any competition for the post.

The panel could not find that Dr Prasad was ” not fit to practice” because she has been both exonerated and revalidated by the General Medical Council. They didn’t even bother to read all the detailed expert findings in the GMC report. So citing the bad relations in the hospital trust between medical colleagues they decided that Dr Prasad was not fit for purpose.

Back of an envelope decision

The relevant paragraph said: “The GMC were concerned with Dr Prasad’s fitness to practise whereas the MHPS panel were concerned about Dr Prasad’s fitness for purpose. The Panel are fully cognisant that these are two different considerations, with different tests, thresholds, processes and outcomes. Fitness to practise distinguishes behaviours which are not in keeping with GMC requirements on good medical practice and therefore may have an impact on a doctor’s licence or registration from behaviours which are not in keeping with a doctor’s ability to carry out a particular professional role. Although the latter do not breach the threshold for GMC action it does mean that a doctor is not fit
for purpose.”

Yet nowhere are these different tests and thresholds explained nor how a human being rather than a system or faulty goods can be classified as unfit for purpose. It is as almost Mrs McLaughlan made the concept up on the back of the envelope just to find anything to attack her. And also safe in the knowledge that the MHPS protects her from explaining herself.

Certainly there are purple passages slamming Usha Prasad’s perceived failings: “Dr Prasad made mediation unviable, refused to participate in a behavioural assessment, made a placement impossible, refused a sabbatical, did not engage with the Trust’s MHPS investigation, responded antagonistically throughout and submitted multiple grievances as a result of any challenge. She appears unable to accept help from her peers but sees everything through the prism of victimhood.”

Yet this is at total odds with reports from Pinderfields Hospital near Wakefield where has received glowing tributes for being able to work there with colleagues while on a placement from St Helier – the report seems to suggest that she is a Jekyll and Hyde figure.

The report does not exonerate other senior figures in the cardiology department. Dr Richard Bogle, who was head of the cardiology department, is criticised: “The Panel were concerned about some of Dr Bogle’s actions and non-actions while clinical leader and how little leadership he demonstrated. He displayed little empathy in relation to the anonymous letters. As the departmental leader he could have undertaken an investigation himself into the relationships within the department.”

Also the inquiry has to admit that the way the trust collected evidence against her to send to the GMC was dubious. “The 43 cases do appear to have been gathered in a haphazard, rather than properly random, fashion. This could be construed as a hunt for evidence rather than a proper audit of clinical care against known gold standard best practise which is properly comparative with others i.e. benchmarking.”

This sorry saga has ended with a popular and competent cardiologist dismissed from the trust and declared to be ” unfit for purpose” as a human being. The truth, as I see it, is that it is the system that judged her that is ” unfit for purpose” not Dr Prasad.

THE USHA PRASAD FILE: PREVIOUS STORIES

 A bizarre tribunal hearing on the treatment of Epsom’s health-trust’s sole woman cardiologist

Top cardiologists back Usha Prasad’s fight against ” badly behaving ” health trust

Botched internal inquiry hearing into Dr Usha Prasad at St Helier Hospital as doctors fight death from Covid- 19

https://davidhencke.com/2021/03/10/exclusive-general-medical-council-investigation-exonerates-dr-usha-prasad-of-any-medical-failings/

https://davidhencke.com/2021/04/21/hidden-justice-in-the-nhs-profile-of-claire-mclaughlan-a-doctors-career-terminator-and-rehabilitator/

Professor Jane Somerville; Pic credit: World Heart Foundation

Professor Jane Somerville, a distinguished cardiologist , who took part in the first heart transplant in the UK, has put up this comment on the situation:

This story highlights a serious problem within the National Health Service which needs urgently to be addressed by the Department of Health. The number of new whistleblowing scandals is steadily increasing. It is concerning when dismissal of a senior doctor following a “whistleblowing” event (as in this case) occurs at a time when insecure young doctors and new consultants are worrying about what sort of National Health Service has employed them – and in the middle of the worst pandemic for 100 years! In David Hencke’s excellent factual reports, a BAME consultant, easily bullied by the Trust despite being found by our regulatory body (the GMC) to be ” fit to practice” has lost her livelihood on grounds of not being “fit for purpose”. This interesting phrase does not appear in English Employment Law, and when used applies to services or goods. Perhaps the Trust wishes to show she is as useless as a cardboard box!

Why does the Department of Health or NHS England allow hospital Trusts to do this, to fight whistleblowing staff but fail to address their original concerns or even pay any lip service to them, using vast sums of taxpayers money (>£700k going on £1m in the case of Dr Chris Day, see @drcmday on Twitter) which the “little person”, the doctor under fire, cannot hope to match? In an exercise of gross imbalance of power and taxpayers’ money Trusts respond to whistleblowers by using panels of seemingly prejudiced and dubious panellists and often expensive lawyers.

These bullying Trusts have too much power and no one seems to be able or willing to control their excesses. This is not a unique case. There have been several very prominent examples in the national press over the past 2 decades. The Department of Health should be concerned about the oppression of their vital professionals, unequipped to fight back and often not helped by representative bodies (such as the BMA), or seniors who may themselves be too frightened of a Trust’s retribution. This cannot be a fair outcome for whistleblowers whose primary motives are to preserve and maintain patient safety, often requesting simple as well as fundamental changes and fair but thorough investigation of underlying problems. A Trusts’ response to whistleblowing often seems corrupted by internal bias. The Department of Health turns a blind eye or does not care. Sir Robert Francis QC was asked to report (2010 and 2013) on failings of Mid Staffs management and avoidable loss of lives. He made many (290) recommendations and introduced the Freedom To Speak Up Guardian. Only a few of 290 recommendations were adopted and FTSU process is not functioning as intended. The Dept of Health should be ashamed of ignoring its responsibilities to the NHS, its doctors (and nurses) and the British electorate. Not to mention the huge sums of taxpayers money expended to save face and cover up the initial problems as well as the labyrinthine process itself.

Professor Jane Somerville