Exclusive: Are whistleblowers now too frit to reveal when NHS patients and care home residents are in danger?

dr-henrietta-hughes

Dr Henrietta Hughes, 4 day a week National Guardian Pic Credit: CQC

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Tucked away in a recent National Audit Office report on the NHS and social care regulator, the Care Quality Commission, is the extraordinary statistic that the number of whistleblowers who tipped off the regulator fell by a staggering 16 per cent to 7452 in 2016-17. That is one in six fewer whistleblowers than the previous year. See paragraph 2.19 of the report.

The figure compares with 153,000 members of the public – an increase of one per cent – expressing concerns about services during the same period.

I have written about this in Tribune this week.

And the latest figures come after  a report by Robert Francis QC to Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary,which was highly critical of the way some had been treated after they made a complaint.

In 2015, Francis reported widespread severe victimisation of staff by senior management when they spoke up for patients. Francis recognised that sacked whistleblowers are blacklisted and recommended a re-employment scheme but nothing seems to have come of it.

His most substantial recommendation was for a National Guardian to protect staff. This led the CQC to create a part time post with no powers. The first appointee, Dame Eileen Sills, quit before starting.

Since then Dr Henrietta Hughes . a GP has been appointed  as National Guardian, on a four day week. And according  to the CQC  yesterday marked her first year as the National Guardian for the NHS with the publication of her first case review report and her annual report highlighting the work of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians.

The one case review she published covered Southport and Ormskirk Health Trust which  has the unenviable reputation for bullying and discriminating against black and ethnic minority staff , a dodgy appointments system favouring some people against others and an attitude of not bothering when staff raise concerns about patients. This might sound familiar incidently for those who have followed my articles on staff practices at the Equality and Human Rights Commission but we should wait for the employment tribunals to see what happened there.

Dr Hughes has recommended a series of recommendations to put matters right – 22 in all – and there is promise from the interim chief executive of the trust, Karen Jackson, to act  with a new senior management team. We shall see. Also this was a trial – how many reports are we going to get from her in future?

The National Guardian has also produced a series of high flown documents which sound terribly good in theory – but again I think we should wait to see what happens.

What has happened so far is that the appointment of a national guardian has coincided with a drop in whistleblowers telling the CQC when things are going wrong.

What we do know is that staff do lose jobs are blacklisted and get the reputation of being troublemakers. There is a  website which covers 11 such cases here. All designed I suspect to cover up an NHS and care system creaking at the seams and not being adequately financed. I hope Dr Hughes does not turn out to be a convenient fig leaf for a service in trouble.

 

Jimmy Savile: How the BBC have by passed Dame Janet Smith’s child sexual abuse review

Jimmy Savile BBC

Jimmy Savile: Credit: BBC clip

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The BBC is an extremely adept organisation in managing news – especially involving its own organisation. So faced with the huge Jimmy Savile scandal it launched a review into how the culture at the BBC allowed such a monster celebrity to get away with such vile and nasty crimes for so long.It also had a remit to decide what child protection and whistle blowing policies were needed to prevent it happening again.

The Corporation appointed a very well respected former judge, Dame Janet Smith, who investigated the appalling misdeeds of murderer Harold Shipman – a GP who killed his own patients.

Her report finished over a year ago  remains unpublished because of ongoing police investigations and no date has even been set when it will see the light of day.

But midway through her inquiry the BBC suddenly changed  the remit of the inquiry – separating the investigation into what  went wrong from the recommendations  of what is needed to put everything right in the BBC’s present day child protection and whistleblowing policies.

This change in  the terms of reference of an inquiry -midway through an investigation- looks pretty unusual to me. It hasn’t happened elsewhere to my knowledge. The reason given was the trial of BBC presenter Stuart Hall was delaying the report’s publication ( rather ironical given that it is still not published) and there was a need to get the BBC’s child protection and whistleblowing policies sorted out. In fact the trial was over within six weeks.

Nevertheless by then the BBC had appointed Good Corporation, a business ethics company, without tendering, to do the work  on changing present day policies for an unknown fee.

The full saga is reported by me and Tim Wood on the Exaro website today.

The findings of Good Corporation’s report were made public last July on the very day the BBC issued its annual report and accounts which dominated the media. You can read them on Exaro here. They are full of praise for the BBC’s current child protection policies and have little criticism of its whistleblowing policies.

Evidently the BBC is a wonderful place to work, women are rarely sexually harassed by men and  don’t  formally complain about this sort of thing anyway and with a few tweaks whistleblowing works perfectly.

What I find extraordinary is that  the BBC seem to have got away with putting the cart before the horse over Savile. We have no idea what Dame Janet Smith has found out about BBC culture, though there are rumours that the report could be damning

Yet  we have a business consultancy already acquitting the BBC of any problems over child protection and whistleblowing before we know. what the report says. How can the lessons be learned without first presenting the evidence.

Finally there is an extraordinary rub. All this information I have reported is in the public domain but has never been reported by the press which seemed to be asleep on the job. The change to the terms of reference and Good Corporation report findings were openly announced by the BBC. Yet no one was interested  even though Jimmy Savile is the most prominent paedophile ever to have lived in the UK. Amazing.

 

Misusing deregulation to smash journalists’ freedom

One of the most precious freedoms for journalists is the protection of their sources. Now it appears the Cabinet Office is using an obscure bill – as part of the government’s drive to cut “red tape”- as cover to erode that freedom.
By changing the rules to allow the police to go to court to obtain reporter’s notebooks, pictures and computer files- without facing an open challenge from newspapers, TV, or even individual freelance journalists themselves – they are placing that protection in serious danger.
No wonder the Newspaper Society is up in arms and media lawyers are raising very serious questions. There is an excellent and elegant argument on the Inforrm blog by Gill Phillips,the Director of Editorial Legal Services at Guardian News and Media, about the dangers.
She rightly concludes: “This appears to be yet another backdoor attempt to limit and restrict essential and hard-fought journalistic protections.”
Bloggers should also be aware of this as it could affect them – and they will be much more vulnerable to a police raid- as they would be in a weak position to defend themselves. It is worth reading Vox Political’s blog on this point and taking action.

The official response according to my former colleague Owen Bowcott in the Guardian has been muted.
He reports :A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Every measure in the deregulation bill is intended to remove unnecessary bureaucracy. Clause 47 would bring the Police and Criminal Evidence Act into line with other legislation in this area and would allow the criminal procedure rules committee to make procedure rules that are consistent and fair.

” However, the government has noted the concerns raised about this issue and Oliver Letwin is happy to meet with media organisations about this before the bill goes to committee.”
I think the government should go further and drop this now. It can hardly save much money and I think their motives in introducing this are questionable and undo good work under the Defamation act and by the Information Commissioners’ Office to protect journalists from interference by the police and the state.

Responsibility in Public Office? – Cathy James

I am reblogging this because it reveals an appalling attitude by Cumbria Police to prosecute those who exposed an outrageous expense claim by their new Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner,Richard Rhodes. Such an act is chilling responsible journalism and bullying the staff who rightly disclosed this. Why is there not a proper public log of his use of taxpayers’ money for expenses?

Inforrm's Blog

_64200175_richard_rhodesOne cannot fail to be shocked by the way in which the Cumbrian police have dealt with those who leaked information to the press about the excessive expenses of their recently elected Police and Crime Commissioner.  The Commissioner, Richard Rhodes, held a press conference in which he admitted that it was wrong to have incurred the cost of hiring a private chauffeur at the public’s expense, but then said he was not responsible for the decision to prosecute those who put the information into the public domain. 

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Silence of the Whistleblowers

Knives out for A4e whistleblowers? Pic courtesy:snippits-and-slappits.blogspot.com

Today  confidential evidence given to MPs on Parliament’s most powerful committee of MPs by a team of whistleblowers on fraud should have become public.

The whistleblowers-  people once employed by two rapidly growing companies A4e and Working Links which are dominating the government’s welfare to work programme – spent two hours giving dramatic evidence in private to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last May.

The result of their information and a frankly complacent performance by Robert Devereux, the patrician permanent secretary, to the Department of Work and Pensions led  to a damning report  by MPs on the ministry’s stewardship of  taxpayers’ money handed over to these profit-making companies.

As reported in Exaro News today ( see http://www.exaronews.com ) Tory and Labour MPs were disgusted at the ministry’s performance.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: “The DWP’s arrangements for overseeing and inspecting its contractors were so weak that vital evidence on potential fraud and improper practice was not picked up.”

Richard Bacon, Conservative MP and deputy chairman of the committee, said: “Encouraging innovation and fresh approaches is important, but so is ensuring value for taxpayers. Providers cannot be allowed to run wild and free with public money.”

Margaret Hodge; Agrred to withold whistleblowers evidence

The evidence came from an appalling internal audit report prepared in 2009 by A4e’s own auditors and leaked to committee on the Exaro website which concluded:” found that more than one quarter of the company’s placements was potentially fraudulent, irregular or unverifiable. The jobs agency even placed one job-seeker at a Liverpool lap-dance club. Last May, Exaro published the auditors’ findings in full. That was under Labour.

But according to  one of the whistleblowers it continued under the Tories. Eddie Hutchinson, former chief auditor of A4e, told the committee in his submission of “systemic” fraud and malpractice at the company.

Hutchinson, worked at A4e from October 2010 until May last year, and at Working Links before that. He described what he saw at both companies as “a multi-billion-pound scandal”. This we only know because of his evidence was leaked to the Daily Telegraph. A4e insist that this eveidence is not true and the new company is now wonderful.

Today we should have had a more rounded picture with new evidence from other whistle blowers. The draft report would have included the minutes of that meeting and with names redacted all the information.

But just days before publication the whistleblowers, according to a top source panicked and asked the chair, Margaret Hodge, to censor all their evidence.

Why? All the whistleblowers were happy to give evidence in public last May but some Tory Mps, Chris Grayling, then the minister for work, and A4e were desperate for the public to know nothing. They stopped the public hearing. Billions of pounds of new contracts were at stake. Now ministers and A4e have got their way.  We are none the wiser. Have the whistleblowers been threatened?  Did they decide they had lied to the committee? Or is there a blacklist in the auditing profession to prevent people who blow the whistle from getting fresh work?

Today is a bad day for transparency and democracy when the most powerful committee in Parliament that holds the government to account cannot publish the facts. The government is making matters worse by changing the law protecting whistleblowers to make it even more unlikely they will risk their careers at the moment.

A4e as well should have been allowed to give evidence to the committee as well as the rather arrogant Mr Devereux. The company could then have put its case and been questioned on its performance. For those interested in the full or should I say half redacted report, it is here (http://bit.ly/PKPO9a ).

Scrap red tape, silence a whistleblower

Whistleblowers under threat

 MPs begin to debate the government’s new  Enterprise and Regulatory Reform bill today (monday). Buried in this legislation in Clause 14 is a plan to limit people with employment contract disputes using the whistleblowers law.

The reasoning behind it is explained in the latest House of Commons Library report on the bill. It says:

“In March 2012, the Department issued its annual employment law review which stated: It has come to light through case law that employees are able to blow the whistle about breaches to their own personal work contract, which is not what the legislation (Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)) was designed for.

Clause 14 would ensure that only disclosures that are in the public interest would attract protection under the whistleblowing provisions of the Employment Rights Act,1996.”

Superficially this sounds quite reasonable.  Whistleblowing legislation should not be used for personal contract disputes. But the way the government is going about this it could sound the death knell for potential whistleblowers just at a time when they are most needed.

Think for one second. A company gets a complaint from a whistleblower about a  nefarious practice. What better way to frighten a whistleblower than by going to the courts claiming this is not in the public interest and demanding a hearing before a judge. The company can then rubbish the whistleblower using the absolute privilege afforded by court hearings for maximum publicity  by claiming the complainer is  a bad worker, in breach of contracts etc – damaging the whistleblower’s reputation.

 There then follows a long dispute about what should be a public interest test – since this until now is only used in Freedom of Information Act disputes in tribunals – with different  judges  defining it in different ways. As Lord Touhig, a whistleblower champion said in a Lords debate: ” This would make a field day for lawyers.”

But there could be another agenda. The government’s fast track privatisation programme for public services has already led to  whistleblowers revealing bad practice as shown in the recent private hearing of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. There I am told two Tory MPs put pressure on the committee not to hear in public whistleblowers’ allegations about bad practice in A4e, the private work provider, which has £200m of Department of Work and Pensions contracts.

The next day the Daily Telegraph leaked some of  their evidence and Chris Grayling, the minister for work but one suspects sympathetic to  A4e, used an appearance on BBC Newsnight to cast doubt on the motives of the whistle blowers.  Has he got DWP files on them I wonder or did A4e brief his press office or special adviser?

Now the Guardian’s splendid Rajeev Syal is reporting that Osita Mba, who blew the whistle on former Revenue chief  Dave Harnett’s secret  tax deal for bankers Goldman Sachs, has found himself being investigated by the criminal investigations unit of  Revenue and Customs. (see http://bit.ly/Mo5oXF )

It seems to me that people should back the campaign by Cathy James, chief executive at Public Concern at Work (http://www.pcaw.org.uk )  to stop this piecemeal change. At the very least the clause should be redrafted to define what should be excluded as a personal contract rather than submitting everything to a public interest test. Otherwise the public have every right to believe that the government has something very different in mind.