They can’t or won’t explain internal NHS procedures used to dismiss the perfectly competent cardiologist Dr Usha Prasad
The long drawn out saga over the dismissal of cardiologist Dr Usha Prasad by Epsom and St Helier University Hospital Trust reported earlier on this blog continues. I will be reporting soon on a lengthy Employment Tribunal recently finished where Dr Prasad made serious protected disclosures about patient and staff safety at the trust and senior consultants were cross questioned about the way they treated Dr Prasad.
In the meantime two retired cardiology consultants Professor Jane Somerville and Dr David Ward, who are championing Dr Prasad’s cause, have tried to get explanations from two of the most senior people in NHS England, Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director and Zoe Penn, Medical Director for the NHS London region and lead official for professional standards. Dr Zoe Penn took time out during the pandemic to sit on the internal Maintaining Higher Professional Standards panel which decided Dr Prasad’s future.
At the heart of the matter is a ruling by the internal tribunal that Dr Prasad is ” not fit for purpose” to do her job. This was made by Claire McLaughlan, the never practised barrister who chaired the inquiry. with Zoe Penn. She has refused to explain what that term means which led to the two retired consultants going to the senior NHS officials for an answer.
What the panel could not rule was that Dr Prasad was ” not fit to practice” medicine even though the trust tried its best to be able to do so by sending 43 cases to the General Medical Council to show her failings.
The GMC not only threw out the Trust’s cases but decided to revalidate her to keep on working – taking away the power the trust had to stop her medical career.
Professor Powis’s response to this is: “Fitness for purpose is a phrase used to refer to behaviours which are not in keeping with the doctor’s ability to practise in a particular professional role but do not breach the threshold for GMC action, to be distinguished from those 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 (“fitness to practice”).”
This is a cut and paste job from Claire Mclaughlan’s findings and takes us no further. It almost suggests the panel was upset that the GMC had ruled she was competent and made up something else to get rid of her.
Nobody can point to where in employment law this phrase comes from – let alone any case law of anybody being dismissed for being ” unfit for purpose”. Any employment lawyer who reads this blog is welcome to come forward to explain with some case law.
The other disturbing disclosure from Professor Powis is the way he dealt with requests from the two consultants for an inquiry into the whole saga.
As they say : “How is it possible for Trusts to use cost threats, expensive lawyers and dubious (and unregulated) “independent management consultants” (aka hired guns) of the type used in this case, to push whistleblower claimants into submission and thereby achieve the “desired” outcome, i.e. their dismissal? It seems to us that this case is a particularly bad example.“
They also say: “NHS Improvement has a duty to oversee behaviour of NHS Trusts. Will it continue to overlook the gravity of this and similar injustices? It is time for a review and improvement of NHS disciplinary and dismissal processes which should include senior NHS managers as well as medical personnel. “
Professor Powis’s response was to refer the case to the regional medical director for London, Dr Vin Diwakar, a close colleague of medical director, Zoe Penn. He is a distinguished clinician and a former medical director of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
But was he the right person to do this review? He sits on the committee in charge of the re-appraisal and relicensing of medical directors in London with Zoe Bell. Given she was also on the same panel that found Dr Prasad was” unfit for purpose”, it is not surprising that Professor Powis in his own words was ” assured that a fair and independent process has been carried out.”
A really independent review would have called someone outside the London region to do this just as the General Medical Council did when a cardiologist from the North East reviewed her case. His solution would be like Epsom and St Hellier University Trust appointing a friendly cardiologist who would find in their favour at the GMC.
Professor Powis said: “It is not the responsibility of NHS England and NHS Improvement nor that of the
National Medical Director, or NHS England and NHS Improvement more generally, to intervene to resolve in individual employment matters,… although we will consider whether employment matters could indicate wider problems with how a trust is being run.”
However perhaps the most damning issue he is silent about is the disclosure in Dr Ward and Professor Somerville’s letter about the behaviour of the former chief executive of the trust, Daniel Elkeles ( now at the London Ambulance Service) during this period.
I quote:”. It would appear that the CEO acted outside his powers by offering to bribe Dr Prasad to “drop all the actions you are taking against ESTH” and leave the Trust in exchange for which ESTH will “agree to cease the MHPS process”…..By offering these terms he was, in effect, cancelling the investigation. We think this is highly irregular. Do you agree? “
What this shows is that Professor Powis is prepared to ignore unethical behaviour in one of London’s health trusts. Either this internal official process was necessary or it shouldn’t have been brought. It is not a bargaining chip to negotiate with a competent consultant. Frankly I think it is akin to blackmail – drop your complaints against the trust or we will make sure you will regret it.
What this nasty little saga shows is that unaccountable officials at the top of the NHS are either too frightened of health trusts or happy to go along with unethical behaviour in the NHS. It is also reveals that this complicated MHPS system is in need of a radical overhaul. It is like those at the top “unfit for purpose”.
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Step will strengthen rights for women and men facing bullies and workplace sexual harassment
Unless any MP objects next month the UK government will start drawing up a submission to the International Labour Organisation to ratify a new convention outlawing violence and harassment at work.
The announcement hardly noticed by anyone was made by Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, in a written answer to Parliament this month. MPs were told if there were no objections within 21 days a ratification submission to the ILO will be drawn up and it will come into force a year later. This will make the UK the tenth nation in the world to ratify this convention and it is the culmination of two years of work following an initiative started under Theresa May when she was PM.
Rare case of political unity
In a rare case of unity in the present polarised world that characterises the UK, the action has all party backing. It has the support of the Westminster Tory government, the Welsh Labour government, the Scottish National and Green Government and the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein Northern Ireland government. It is supported by both the CBI and the TUC and has the strong support of many international NGOs, women’s groups, Care International and the human rights organisations like Amnesty International.
The convention took time to draw up and it is – for an exclusively work orientated convention – remarkably inclusive..
Stephen Russell, policy officer at the TUC, says the convention itself is very broad based and also through ILO procedures means the UK will have to produce reports every two years on how it is being implemented.
The convention covers “persons working irrespective of their contractual status, persons in training, including interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, jobseekers and job applicants, and individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer.”
It is also covers not just the workplace but also work related trips, accommodation provided by employers, harassment on social media, office parties and other work related social activities and commuting from home to work.
According to the TUC and the government the UK had a big role in drawing up the scope of the convention. One of the leading figures was Amanda Brown, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union , which represents teachers. She is on the governing body of the ILO and was on the committee that drew up the scope of the convention.
Therese Coffey said that the government already has the legal framework to meet the requirements of the convention in both criminal and civil law but proposed to go further following recent consultations on sexual harassment in the workplace.
She said she would introduce ” a new proactive duty requiring employers to take steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment and introducing explicit protections for employees from harassment by third parties, for example customers and clients.”
The issue of sexual harassment and violence against women has been highlighted lately in the police and Parliament where one former Tory MP. Charles Elphicke, was jailed for assaulting a member of his staff, The House of Lords has also introduced compulsory training for peers after some were accused of harassing women, including Parliamentary staff.
Only Fiji and Uruguay have ratified this, Namibia is next
So far internationally only two countries, Fiji and Uruguay, have ratified it. Another seven countries are in the process of ratifying it, including Greece, Italy, Namibia, Somalia, Ecuador, Argentina and Mauritius. Namibia will ratify it from December 9.
While the UK has ratified four UN conventions covering the rights of the child, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), racial discrimination, and the rights of the disabled, but has not introduced all encompassing laws to implement the conventions.
When Scotland tried to implement in full the ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Boris Johnson instructed lawyers to go to the Supreme Court to block the move and succeeded. Similarly the government is not keen on implementing CEDAW in full with a Women’s Rights Bill.
Jocelynne Stutt, president and patron of CEDAW in Law, said:
” This is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough in sexual harassment cases. There is harassment of tenants by landlords, there is rampant harassment of students in education, and sexual harassment in the home. None of this is covered by the new convention and the UK has not ratified the Istanbul Convention which comprehensively covers sexual harassment and violence towards women.”
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This blog often criticises the Department of Work and Pensions for its treatment of pensioners and the disabled. The ministry often responds by saying it is balancing this by helping young people. So how well is it doing on that front?
Not very well according to a National Audit Office report published today. It looks into the running of the Kickstart programme – a jobs programme aimed to take young people aged 16 to 24 off Universal Credit and into work. It has the laudable aim of getting the most unemployable youngsters into a job and off benefit.
Launched in September last year with the aim of helping 250,000 young people and employers get £1500 a person to help them run the scheme and pay the young the minimum wage. Some £1.9 billion was allocated by the Treasury to do the job.
The target was to reach this number by the end of this year. Instead the NAO reveals it has been extended to next March and will only help 168,000 of them. The target was hindered by the double whammy of the pandemic. As the report said; ” Repeated lockdowns meant many of the young people who started to claim Universal Credit at the start of the pandemic were on Universal Credit for over a year before the scheme could get going at scale. As the programme did begin to scale up, the economy was reopening, which increased the risk of government subsidising jobs that would have been created anyway. “
Indeed this was not the only target missed. It was aimed at whose who would find it difficult to get jobs, yet anybody aged 16 to 24 could get a place. The ministry didn’t evaluate what sort of jobs the young people got and whether it was good value for money . It didn’t entirely help the ” levelling up ” process either. The largest number of jobs created were in central London though including poor boroughs like Tower Hamlets and Lambeth. One area in the North East did get a good share but job offers were sparse in rural areas notably Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Norfolk, Powys and the Scottish borders.
The largest number of jobs offered were in admin, the desperate hospitality sector and the retail trade. The lowest number of placements were with law firms, transport operators, animal welfare and beauty treatments.
Firms caught cheating the young
Where company checks were made by local DWP managers there was a disturbing number of firms caught cheating the young by not paying them or putting their health and safety at risk. The report found “As at 20 October 2021, the Department had made 30 decisions to cap an employer or Gateway’s grant, [ limit the numbers a firm could employ]and 165 further decisions to end a grant agreement, including 105 decisions to remove an employer from a grant agreement with a Gateway.”
The DWP did not investigate whether the jobs would be filled anyway without the scheme either.
The result is that by no means all the £1.9 billion allocated by the Treasury will be spent and it is not known whether the rest has been spent wisely.
To be fair to DWP staff the report says the work coaches employed to help young people were enthusiastic about getting young people into work. It notes one or two individual successes including a young person with a criminal record and a drugs problem, getting a job and another unconfident young person getting an enjoyable job..
The report said: “When a Kickstart vacancy in dog daycare came up they wanted to apply, but lacked confidence in their application. Following discussion with their work coach they volunteered for an online course on animal care, after which they were successful in their job interview. Their work coach reports they are really enjoying their job, and would not have succeeded in getting it without Kickstart.”
The NAO praises the DWP for getting the Kickstart programmer off the ground but is not happy aboujt the evaluation of the project by the ministry.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:
“At the start of the pandemic, DWP acted quickly to set up Kickstart to help young people into work when youth unemployment was predicted to rise significantly.
“However, DWP has limited assurance that Kickstart is having the positive impact intended. It does not know whether the jobs created are of high quality or whether they would have existed without the scheme. It could also do more to ensure the scheme is targeted at those who need it the most.”
A similar view is expressed by Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
So once again a good idea is spoiled by a ministry that does not evaluate whether its programme – one of the most expensive run by the department costing around £7,000 per participant,- is doing its job.
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Inflation rises to 4.2 per cent days after ministers limit rise to 3.1 percent
The House of Lords accepted the Commons defeat over their plan to meet the broken Tory manifesto pledge to keep the “triple lock” on pension rises next April.
The proposal from former Tory pensions minister, Ros Altmann, would have increased pensions by less than 8.3 per cent – the rise in earnings – but more than 3.1 per cent rise in inflation.
Yesterday when the measure came back to the Lords not a single Conservative peer – not even Ros Altmann who had proposed the compromise – spoke in the debate. Instead it was left to Labour peers, a Liberal Democrat and a crossbencher peer to criticise the Commons decision.
Labour peer Lord (Bryn) Davies of Brixton – noting that inflation will be high next year – warned that having broken the ” triple lock” because a 8.3 per cent earnings rise was not regarded as atypical – had created a precedent that could apply the following year to inflation.
He said: “We know the Government believe that highly atypical trends in earnings growth are sufficient justification for breaking the earnings link. We do not know how atypical earnings growth needs to be in future before they decide again to break the link. Can the Minister tell us more about what counts as atypical earnings growth? How atypical does it need to be to justify breaking the promise?
“However, it is not just earnings growth that might be considered atypical. What counts as atypical growth in prices? This is not a hypothetical issue. Most of us here have become familiar with what many in this House might regard as consistently low rates of inflation, but who knows what is to come, with the unwinding of quantitative easing and other pressures on the economy? How do we know that the Government, when faced with a significantly higher rate of inflation than we have experienced in the last 25 years, will not decide that this too is atypical?”
Labour peer Lord (Prem) Sikka warned “At around 25% of average earnings, the UK state pension is already the worst in the industrialised world. It is the main or only source of income for the majority of retirees, and their lives will be even harder, especially those of women.
“Women never got pension equality: the retirement age was increased but their pension was never equalised with that of men. Thousands will die this winter because people will have to make the harsh choice between eating and heating, and the first statistics will be emerging fairly soon. Our retirees are being hammered from every corner, whether it is on pensions or winter fuel payments, which are unchanged since 2011, or the Christmas bonus, which is unchanged since 1972, or the loss of the free TV licence for the over-75s.”
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham of Oxford, also expressed concern about the future:
“We are concerned that pensioners will not be protected from the effects of the economic pressures now coming from inflation. The Governor of the Bank of England is very uneasy about the situation and we want to know whether the Government are prepared to keep an open mind and look particularly at the case of the poorest pensioners as time goes on in the next few months, when these pressures will come to a head.”
Lord Desai, a crossbench peer, insisted that government having broken the triple lock could now always use the lowest amount to put pensions up every year.
Lord (Jeff) Rooker defended the Lords raising the issue;” With ignorant journalists in the media calling for the abolition of your Lordships’ House, this issue shows, above all, that we will always be an irritant to the Government, whatever party is in power. ”
Labour Baroness Sherlock warned: Tthis short Bill is a mistake. It steps away from the earnings link and, in walking away from their manifesto commitment for the third time, the Government are breaking trust with the electorate. Why are they so determined to do it? Ministers tell us that it is for one year only. Great, but I worry that their refusal to be creative in finding a way to deal with the fallout from the pandemic raises fears that they really are planning to walk away from this longer term.
“My noble friend Lord Rooker is, as always, right. We have done what we can. We have asked the elected House to think again. The Government whipped their people to say that they did not want to do so. I think they are wrong. Pensioners will pay the price for this and they will not likely forget this breach of trust. I hope the Government think it was worth it.”
Conservative DWP minister Baroness Stedman- Scott insisted the change was for one year only and criticised Lord Sikka for saying the UK had the worst level of state pension in the industrialised West.
Pensioners are going to get very angry if they do not have enough money to heat and eat this winter and not be able to keep up with inflation next year. Could this be the issue that ends the Conservative’s long period of popularity? By being silent and not even considering that pensioners are worthy of an explanation could be the issue that kills support for the party among the elderly.
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Commons vote to throw out Lords case for a revised triple lock rise
The House of Commons last night voted down the Lords case for a higher pension rise next April with Guy Opperman, the pension minister, describing such a move as ” reckless” as there could be no robust figure to work out a compromise figure suggested by former Tory pensions minister Baroness Altmann. He boasted that the government were spending huge sums on pensions ” amounting to £129 billion this year”.
Full list of MPs who didn’t want pensioners to get a bigger rise below -all Tories
Baroness Altmann had argued for a higher figure than the government’s 3.1 per cent but below the 8.3 per cent rise in earnings if the government had kept the triple lock. This follows the latest estimates for inflation rising as high as 5 per cent by next April. The government won by 300 votes to 229 and by 299 to 53 to disagree with the Lords.
Full vote on pension uprating here. Those who were against any more money for pensioners included Sir Geoffrey Cox, who has made a £1m advising a tax haven, Alok Sharma, the president of Cop 26, Red Wall Tory, Ben Bradley for Mansfield and Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield Bob Seely, Isle of Wight with a large pensioner population; millionaire Grant Shapps, the transport secretary; Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross; Peter Aldous, joint chair of the APPG on 50s women’s pensions and a clutch of Tories who won seats from Labour in the last general election. Two Tories rebelled and voted for the Lords uprating, Esther McVey, MP for Tatton and Derek Thomas, MP for St Ives. Derek Thomas it turns out voted against the government by mistake and then went into the government lobby. So he voted twice. Independents voting for the rise included former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
There were a lot of MPs who didn’t vote including Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and among Labour, Andrew Gwynne, joint chair of the APPG on 50s women’s pensions, Jack Dromey and Margaret Beckett.
The government was opposed by Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Alliance Party, the SDLP, and the Democratic Unionist Party. Only one Tory backbencher spoke to defend the government, Duncan Baker, the MP for Norfolk, North. Most Tory MPs stayed away from the debate.
He argued that his large number of elderly pensioner constituents understood the need not to increase pensions by 8.3 per cent because of the current financial situation. Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s social security spokesman, supported the Lords move and rejected the government’s case -saying it was reasonable for the government to find a figure.
The strongest support came from John McDonnell, who argued the full triple lock of 8.3 per cent should be paid because of pensioner poverty, women being especially hit. ” Under the Lords amendment we are talking about giving pensioners an extra £2.75 a week – it is ridiculous that we are arguing against this. I would give them the full 8.3 per cent – worth £7 a week.”
Three Scottish MPs – two from the Scottish National Party David Linden and Patricia Linden – and Liberal Democrat Wendy Chamberlain argued against the government. Wendy Chamberlain said she had not received a single letter supporting the government abandoning the triple lock and many letters opposing the move.
Stephen Timms, Labour chair of the Commons works and pensions committee, challenged the government to make up the shortfall and was sceptical whether the government would abandon the triple lock next year ( Guy Opperman denied this) but even if not, it meant pensions would continue to fall behind wages.
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From November 3 the Department for Work and Pensions introduced a new tough regime for people claiming the new Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance. They will like those already on Universal Credit have to sign up to a ” claimant commitment ” to undertake whatever work coaches at the DWP demand from them to get a job, Failure to do so leads to a rising number of financial penalties ultimately leading to the withdrawal of all benefits.
The new regulations like the ones dealing with domestic abuse should have been scrutinised by Parliament but the main body that vets them is the little known Social Security Advisory Committee,(SSAC) a watchdog which is expected to see whether the benefit regime is fair and equitable.
Minutes and correspondence released by SSAC show that it has been doing its job since September and is currently involved in discussing the new regulations with Mims Davies, the employment minister.
But people might be surprised to know that SSAC’s main focus has been on increasing the penalties on claimants rather than reducing them.
The reason is that the watchdog spotted that the tabled regulations had a big loophole which, in their view, made them less effective. The hideously complicated benefit system means that there are people who claim both Universal Credit and Jobseekers Allowance or the Employment and Support Allowance. Where they claim both the new regulations say only one penalty can apply on Universal Credit alone – and the Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance remain untouched.
SSAC want the penalties to apply to both.
Dr Stephen Brien, the chair of SSAC wrote to the minister: “in circumstances where the value of UC element of the benefit was lower than the sanctioned amount, the claimant would be in a more favourable position than a claimant solely in receipt of either UC or a new style benefit who would be impacted by the full force of the sanction. As it is possible that the UC element of a dual claim
could be zero, this presents a significant inconsistency.”
He went on: ” the Committee is of the strong view that this inconsistency be reviewed and addressed at the earliest opportunity.” The ministry went ahead with regulations as they stand and is still discussing what it should do while it looks at the effectiveness of the new sanctions.
Since the sanctions system depends on the views of the DWP work coach it looks like the fate of many claimants will decided by individual civil servants. Now it so happens that SSAC has done some serious work on the ” claimant commitment ” rules under Universal Credit which decide whether sanctions will be applied.
The report two years ago is a somewhat idealistic document which expects a parity of esteem between the civil servant handing out the sanction and a desperate claimant getting the benefit. It says the commitment should be accessible, clear, tailored to the claimant’s needs and the state of the local labour market, and agreed by both the claimant and the DWP. It also says claimants should be properly informed.
Real world not the same as the idealistic picture of claimant commitment
However in the real world SSAC found it was pretty mixed picture. It found some good practice but also examples of lone parents not being informed of their right to reduced work searches, re-assessment interviews lasting just ten minutes and “not all work coaches are using discretion fairly or reasonably and opt for generic, rather than tailored, actions. We saw examples of work coaches copying and pasting actions from a shared document which had become standard in their local Jobcentre.”
As usual the DWP itself didn’t seem to have an overall picture of what was happening as it couldn’t be bothered to put together a national picture. So it is rather strange that the present SSAC committee is concentrating on punitive measures. Or is it?
The present committee under Stephen Brien, who worked for Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Policy Studies and now works for the United Arab Emirates funded Legatum Institute is more inclined to want to correct inefficiency in the DWP than to take tough action over the welfare of claimants.
What is deeply worrying is that many claimants – particularly more elderly disabled claimants now looking for work in their 60s and suffering poor health could get some very harsh treatment. They might be lucky and get a really sympathetic work coach or they could be landed with a jobsworth or worse a power maniac who enjoys putting the disadvantaged down. Will SSAC be bothered? Documents referred to in this article can be found on the SSAC website here.
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By Philip Whiteley and David Hencke
A law firm in the Sellafield whistleblowing case has put in a bid for £20,000 costs against the claimant Alison McDermott, in part to deal with Freedom of Information requests – even though it emerged at the Tribunal hearing that the firm’s client had failed substantially to provide relevant evidence.
The costs application by Pinsent Masons on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, if successful, could set a precedent that weakens a citizen’s right to request information. It would appear to undermine the will of Parliament, given that when the Freedom of Information Act was passed MPs specifically rejected the idea of levying a fee for FoI requests.
The other law firm in the case, DLA Piper, simultaneously put in a bid for £20,000 costs against Ms McDermott – the maximum allowed without being subject to a further hearing – listing other factors, principally changes the claimant made in the detail of her case.
At the three hearings in the case held so far there has been overwhelmingly strong evidence indicating that Ms McDermott’s FoI requests were both proportionate and necessary. She said: “The governing body [the NDA] in its ordinary disclosure, released one email. Then, when I put in direct subject access requests, many more emails proved that they had been asking questions about the termination of my contract. Then, at the hearing it emerged that Heather Roberts [former HR director at Sellafield] had withheld a key document that said that the NDA was very concerned about the timing of my termination and that conversations had been held. This information was never released.
“The Freedom of Information requests also revealed that contracts had been awarded for HR services, including EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion] services, for the value of £17 million. It was only after that that they [Sellafield] switched from financial reasons [for dismissal] to one of performance.”
Ms McDermott, an independent EDI consultant hired by the nuclear plant Sellafield, had her contract terminated the first working day after making a report detailing systemic discrimination and bullying at the plant, a pattern confirmed by a BBC investigation which reported earlier this year.
At the tribunal hearing in June-July 2021 her barrister, James Arnold, pointed to directly relevant evidence only coming to light shortly before the hearing – after a period of more than two years since litigation began. He was not contradicted by either Respondent (see our coverage on 30 June). This hampered Mr Arnold’s ability to call witnesses, and cross-examine them. Ms McDermott was not successful in linking the detriment she experienced to the reports she made, although she is appealing the ruling.
Law Firm Pinsent Masons claimed FOI requests were ” vexatious”
The law firm, Pinsent Mason, claimed that the requests for Freedom of Information and Subject Access Requests, were part of vexatious, abusive, disruptive and unreasonable behaviour by Alison McDermott against both Sellafield and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
In a letter to the court the firm said she had “submitted four Data Subject Access Requests and six Freedom of Information Requests over the last three years, the majority of which were complex and involved significant work and additional legal time and cost by the Second Respondent [the NDA] to answer.”
It added it meant ”significant inhouse legal resource time and wider staff management time responding to data subject access requests and Freedom of Information Requests linked to the claim”.
Pinsent Mason said the NDA had spent £200,000 fighting the case and wanted £20,000 – the maximum it can claim at a tribunal – back.
Solicitors Regulation Authority takes no action against law firms
A critical response came from the Solicitors Regulation Authority who claimed that Ms McDermott had confused the difference between using all the information from Subject Access Requests with what was relevant to the case at the tribunal. The letter suggested that she should have highlighted more information from the requests if she thought the tribunal was not looking at the issue – citing the ruling from the judge.
The letter from the SRA making this point, dated 30 September 2021, cites from an earlier Tribunal ruling – following the strike-out hearing in July 2020. This was fully one year before the full hearing, where further directly relevant evidence came to light, as noted by Mr Arnold, including the correspondence in which the governing body admitted to nervousness about the timing of her dismissal.
DLA Piper wipes metadata and says it was a mistake
On another matter, as reported earlier, metadata was wiped from a piece of evidence in the case while in possession of DLA Piper, representing Sellafield, shielding information on authorship and time of creation of the document. The metadata was released to the claimant upon request.
The matter was referred to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which decided in September to take no action. It accepted that this was a genuine mistake by DLA Piper, although its own investigation was inconclusive.
Pinsent Masons, for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, did not respond to a request for a statement or interview.
A spokesman for DLA Piper said: ‘As a matter of course, DLA Piper does not comment on client matters. We refute allegations of wrongdoing on the firm’s part. The employment tribunal’s decision is open to the public and we would refer you to this for details of the case and the outcome.’ The Solicitors Regulation Authority did not respond to a request for an interview or statement.
But deputy speaker stops Lord Sikka’s” full restitution” amendment going to a vote
The government were roundly defeated in the Lords – by 220 votes to 178 – yesterday over its plans to abolish the triple lock for next year’s pension rise – reducing the up rating for pensioners from 8.1 per cent to 3.1 per cent.
The loss of cash for pensioners in the next five years is enormous. They lose a share of £5.4 billon next year, £5.78 billion in 2023-24, £6.1 billion in 2024-25, £6.5 billion in 2025-26 and £6.7 billion in 2026-27. That amounts as Lord Sikka told peers to £30.5 billion removed from pensioners’ pockets over the next five years.
What happened yesterday in the Lords were two separate approaches to challenging the government’s decision to end for next year the link between pensions and earnings.
The first which was successful was put forward by Baroness Ros Altmann, a former Tory pensions minister, in a series of amendments. She had the support of Labour’s Baroness Sherlock, a former special adviser to Gordon Brown and an ordained priest at Durham Cathedral; Baroness Janke, a Liberal Democrat peer and former leader of Bristol council; and Baroness Boycott, a crossbench peer, feminist and former editor of the Independent newspaper.
It was one of these amendments that led to the defeat of the government in the Lords. This particular amendment had the support of former Labour Cabinet minister, Baron Hain, Liberal Democrat baroness Janke and crossbencher (and ex Conservative) Baroness Wheatcroft former editor of the Sunday Telegraph.
Basically the amendment challenged the government’s calculation of the rise in earnings at 8.1 or 8.3 per cent and wanted a new calculation stripping out the effect of the pandemic. Lady Altmann initially had put this at 3.8 per cent but yesterday suggested it could be as high as five per cent and then suggested she was had no firm figure. This particular approach had the support of Labour.
The official wording maintained the link with “earnings obtaining in Great Britain, as adjusted to take account of the exceptional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the level of earnings”.
She told peers: ” after seeing alcohol and fuel duty cut in the Budget and the bank surcharge allowance raised, and adding up the amount of Exchequer savings that those measures entail, half the cost of not honouring the triple lock will cover the costs of just those three measures. I appeal to noble Lords across the House: is this really the country that we believe that we should be living in? Is that the priority for public spending?”
The key point about this amendment is that it does not restore the full 8.1 per cent to pensioners and it leaves the government to decide – if it wants to – the new earnings rate.
Baroness Stedman Scott, the DWP Lords minister, did not sound convinced. Referring to a blog on the Office for National Statistics site she said “Using a range of possible estimates based on a method that cannot be agreed on does not provide a sufficiently robust basis for making critical decisions about billions of pounds-worth of expenditure.”
The second more radical approach came from Prem Sikka, Lord Sikka. He was backed by Baroness Bennett, Natalie Bennett the former Green leader; Baron Davies of Brixton – Bryn Davies- a former Labour union leader; Baroness Blower, Labour and former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers and Lord Hendy, Labour, a barrister and labour law expert. Lord Sikka told them the government’s measure “is also contrary to the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Rather than levelling up, it impoverishes citizens and condemns millions of current and future retirees to a life of poverty and misery. There is no moral or economic rationale for this; indeed, none has been offered by any Minister so far.
“The Government’s own statistics, published on 3 September 2021, say that the average weekly pre-2016 state pension is £169.21 for males, £141.98 for females, and the overall mean is £155.08. The average weekly post-2016 pension is £166.34 for males, £160.11 for females, and the overall average is £164.23. As we can see from these figures, women are especially impoverished by the way that pensions are calculated and paid. They will be hit even harder by the abandonment or, as the Minister might say, the temporary suspension of the triple lock.”
….”Low pensions condemn our citizens to a life of misery. Some 1.3 million retirees are affected by malnutrition or undernutrition. Around 25,000 older people die each year due to cold weather, and we will no doubt hear the grim statistics for this year, possibly on 26 November when the next numbers are out. Despite the triple lock, the proportion of elderly people living in severe poverty in the UK is five times what it was in 1986, which is the largest increase among major western countries. Some 2.1 million pensioners live in poverty, and the poverty rate has actually increased since 2012-13.”
Then extraordinarily Baroness Fookes, a Tory peer who was a deputy speaker, blocked a vote on Lord Sikka’s amendment leading Lord Sikka to say he was cheated. She argued that his opponents had made more noise than his supporters to justify the decision.
If this amendment had been passed it would have allowed pensioners to get the full uprating of 8.1 per cent but would have wrecked the bill. Labour did not support this and would have abstained. A spokesman for the Labour Whip’s office explained:”Prem’s amendment was not in line with the Lords’ constitutional position, in that it would wreck the core purpose of a bill that the Commons had already voted to support.
There was all party support however for a full impact study into pensioner poverty after peers from all sides had expressed concern about the plight of pensioners this winter and the DWP minister promised this when faced with possibility of yet another Lords revolt.. There was also a promise from the minister for a detailed explanation of the national insurance fund – which appears to have a £37 billion surplus which the government says cannot be used to pay for keeping the triple lock.
What is clear is that Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has been silent about this surplus in all the documents he produced to accompany the Budget. If it turns out that it has been used secretly to repay government debt I suspect there will be an all mighty row as 12 million pensioners will feel they have been cheated yet again by successive governments. Watch this space for more developments.
Read here who supported revising the triple lock and those who were against pensioners getting a penny more. Those in favour included 3 Tories, 99 Labour, 41 cross benchers,64 Liberal Democrats,13 non affiliated, including one Green Party and 2 Democratic Unionist Party.
Those against included 165 Tories, 11 crossbenchers and 2 non affiliated peers. Hereditary peers also voted against. You can see all their names on the link.
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Issue much more widespread than the public realise
The recent Dispatches programme and article in the Times by journalist Matthew Syed highlighted the plight of whistleblowers in the NHS citing the case of Peter Duffy, a consultant surgeon, working for the Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust. Faced with failures at the trust in the emergencies department he expressed concern for two patients who subsequently died from kidney sepsis.
One would have expected the Trust to have remedied the situation. Instead they turned on him rather than admit any failings. As he told Matthew Syed: ” I was on the receiving end of allegations of bullying, abuse and racism. And so what I hoped would be an attempt to raise standards became an investigation of myself”.
It took five years of toxic attacks and tribunal hearings before he won his case for constructive dismissal. The sad thing is that this is not some isolated instance but appears to be growing in an NHS that is more concerned with its reputation than the safety of patients in its care and is preparing to spend millions of taxpayers money on lawyers fees to undermine any cases brought by whistleblowers. Furthermore it is prepared to spend literally years to wear down anybody who puts their face above the parapet.
Readers of this blog will be aware of the case of Usha Prasad, a popular and competent cardiologist ( the General Medical Council has recently revalidated her) who has been driven out of the Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust ( now merged with St George’s Health Trust),
Today she starts a 16 day employment tribunal hearing as a whistleblower. She is backed by Dr Sola Odimuyiwa, from the hospital trust and two retired eminent cardiologists, Professor Jane Somerville and Dr David Ward, who believe her case is just one example of a malign system designed to cover up failures in the NHS. This week the latter two sent a letter to the Sunday Times which was edited down for publication. This is the full text:
“We thank Matthew Syed (Comment Oct 24) for his frank exposure of some of the “mistakes and weaknesses” of the NHS of which the persecution of medical whistle-blowers, as shown by the heinous story of the consultant surgeon, Mr Peter Duffy. He is one example of many.
It is a doctor’s duty of candour to draw attention to matters which are not safe for patients. This action, in good faith, prevents accidents thereby protecting patients. Hospital Trusts may not respond favourably to such complaints and may use their unbridled powers to instigate prolonged, expensive and vengeful disciplinary processes.
Medicine has learnt some of the lessons from aviation safety but the fair and open treatment of whistle-blowers is not one of them. Hospital Trusts are able to fund these processes because they can access public funds not available to the whistle-blower which is a gross imbalance of power. Shady external “management consultants”, who operate by their own rules, and expensive legal firms are hired by Trusts at great expense with the sole aim of ensuring the dismissal of the troublesome whistle-blower. This certainly affects the recruitment and retention of doctors the NHS so badly needs.
A serious consequence of this nefarious process has been the emergence of a cover-up culture in which the initial deficiencies or ‘protected disclosures’ are inadequately investigated. There is no oversight or regulation of the way Trusts investigate whistleblowers. What informal processes there are may have been designed deliberately to avoid or deflect scrutiny. We have been unable to find a body or organisation to whom to report a Trust’s bad treatment of a whistle-blower. Attempts by supporters of whistle-blowers to engage higher regulatory bodies such as NHS England are usually met with indifference.
For the victimised, whistle-blowing doctor the outcome can be devastating. Their careers are stolen from them. The reputational damage prevents them from securing another job. Serious physical and mental health problems are not uncommon and family lives are destroyed.
We think the investigation of NHS whistle-blowers, of which there have been many notable cases over the past decade, should open and accountable. It is a scandal unknown by the wider public and in need of an independent inquiry.”
A national problem
You can see they believe this is a national problem not an isolated case. It can be backed up by a roll call of cases ( some of which are not yet finished). You can click on the stories reported in various newspapers to get an idea of the scale of toxicity on this issue.
Dr Raj Mattuhttps://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/04/dismissed-nhs-whistleblower-who-exposed-safety-concerns-handed-122m
Dr David Drewhttps://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/11/nhs-whistleblowers-the-staff-who-raised-the-alarmhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Stories-Life-Death-NHSwhistleblowr/dp/1783065230?asin=1783065230&revisionId=&format=4&depth=1
Dr Kevin Beatthttps://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/nhs-to-pay-ps870-000-to-whistleblower-doctor-who-spoke-out-on-patient-safety-a4384211.html
Dr Chris Dayhttps://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/02/nhs-whistleblowing-protection-tribunal-junior-doctors
Dr Ed Jesudason https://www.drphilhammond.com/blog/2018/06/28/private-eye/private-eye-medicine-balls-1468-march-16-2018/
Mr Peter Duffyhttps://the-medical-negligence-experts.co.uk/lancaster-surgeon-peter-duffy-nhs-whistleblower-book/
Dr Claire Connollyhttps://www.rllaw.co.uk/success-at-tribunal-for-nhs-whistleblower-dr-claire-connolly/
Dr Minh Alexander, who hosts a blog site about whistleblowing having been one herselfhttps://minhalexander.com
Pandemic whistleblowers inchttps://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-uk-nhs-ppe-whistleblowers-job-losses-ppe-a9515856.html
Dr Usha Prasadhttps://davidhencke.com/?s=Prasad&submit=Search
Mr David Sellu, a surgeon in the private sector, was treated badly but he was not a whistleblower just a victim of the judiciaryhttps://www.theguardian.com/global/2019/jun/16/they-look-for-a-scapegoat-a-sugeons-battle-to-clear-his-name-dr-david-sellu
But this is not the end of it by many means. Since I took up Dr Prasad’s case I have become aware through a new group. Doctors for Justice, that there are as many as 35, yes 35, other cases. Nearly all the doctors at the moment are requesting confidentiality until their case becomes public at an employment tribunal hearing. There are many, many other doctors who have quietly quit trusts to find work elsewhere because they don’t want to have to fight their employers for years on end.
Under this system it is the patient that pays the price – and in a number of cases the ultimate price – death. That is why this blog is going to keep an eye on what is going on the NHS until someone has the guts to reform the system and take on a bureaucracy that seems more interested in preserving its reputation than improving patient safety.
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The government came under fire from all parties last night in a late sitting in the House of Lords for deciding to scrap the “triple lock” for pensioners- reducing next April’s rise from over £14 to £5.55 a week.
There also was a constitutional row when the Conservative Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Evans, on advice from the clerks, wanted to rule out of order an amendment from Tory peer Baroness Stroud, on the £20 a week cut in Universal Credit. It was quite clear from her proposal – she worked with Iain Duncan Smith at the Centre for Social Justice – that she wanted MPs to to have a vote on the cut and was not happy with the policy.
The debate which ran on until midnight united rebellious Tories, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and crossbenchers in opposition to the plans to break the earnings link.
Baroness Altmann, a former Conservative pensions minister, proposed three amendments – all aimed at restoring in some way an earnings link – though offering the government a compromise by either linking to a lower earnings level or giving the highest rise to those pension credit – who are the poorest pensioners.
By far the strongest criticism of the move came from the Labour peer, Prem Sikka, who wanted to scrap the clause altogether. He was backed by Baroness Bennett, the former Green Party leader and Lord Davies of Brixton, a former trade unionist and leader of the Inner London education authority.
He called for the full 8.3 per cent up rating to be paid:” In the 1980s, the Thatcher Administration broke the link between earnings and the state pension, and we never recovered from it. This is another example of where, once that link is broken, we will never really recover from it; the Minister so far has not said that in future the backlog will somehow be made up. Nothing has been said about that.”
“The current full state pension at the moment is £9,350 a year, and only four out of 10 retirees receive it. The average state pension is about £8,000 a year and, as has already been pointed out, is around 24% or 25% of the earnings. It is the lowest among industrialised nations, and by not increasing the state pension in line with average earnings we are going to condemn it to remain low.”
He said that state pensions were lowest in Europe – just 4.6 per cent od gross national product – compared to 10 per cent in Germany.
1.25 million women pensioners living in poverty
He asked: “Why is it that the Government are content for such low allocation to the state pension? What happened to the billions that the Government took from 3.8 million women by raising their state pension age from 60 to 66? What happened to the billions that the Government said would be saved by coming out of the European Union? Why have those resources not been used to lift our senior citizens out of poverty?”
He added: “Despite the triple lock, 2.1 million pensioners live in poverty, 1.25 million of whom are women. The poverty rate is higher now that it was in 2012-13. Many simply struggle to survive. Those retirees who try to top up their meagre state pension with part-time work will soon be hit by the Johnson tax: a 1.25% hike in national insurance. At the same time, what do we actually observe? For those rich people who make vast fortunes from capital gains and dividends, or speculation on second homes, commodities markets and securities markets, no national insurance contributions are payable on unearned income. That money could definitely be used to alleviate poverty, but the Government have not indicated any inclination to do that.”
“£8.50 a week is probably less than what many ministers pay for a glass of wine”
He said it would cost £4.7 billion to do so and could easily be raised by raising the national insurance levy on unearned income, such as shares or capital gains, which are exempt from the new levy.
“A triple lock based upon the existing formula could have given an increase of around 8% to 8.3%, adding up to about £14 a week in the full new state pension, instead of £5.55 a week. That is a difference of about £8.50 a week. Is that really a king’s ransom? It is probably less than what many Ministers pay for a glass of wine with their lunch.”
Baroness Bennett said she wanted a even more radical overhaul of the pensions system – saying no pensioner should live in povery and the con tributory system which is unfair to women should be abolished.
Baroness Stedman-Scott, junior minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, said if Lord Sikka’s proposal was passed the bill would collapse as it has only two clauses and asked for him to withdraw it. He did but promised to come back next Wednesday when the bill is debated again when he plans to raise the issue of the National Insurance Fund whose latest accounts show it has a £37 billion surplus. Curiously I learnt that Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, did not want Labour peers highlighting the issue of the pensions ” triple lock” implying Labour was prepared to go along with the Tories over this issue but it seems pretty clear from the debate that this was ignored. Rather extraordinary that Labour don’t want to highlight the issue.
For those who want to see the debate go to https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/3af431d5-923d-46d3-a9ec-3bf5a3ad7d2f and scroll down to 20:12:26 Legislation: Social Security (Uprating of Benefits) Bill – committee stage .It is a long debate lasting nearly four hours.
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