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The NHS Whistleblowing Crisis

Tommy Greene and David Hencke report on a number of worrying NHS dismissal cases

A theatre technician adjusts the lights prior to an operation. Photo: Mark Thomas/Alamy

The NHS Whistleblowing Crisis

Tommy Greene and David Hencke report on a number of worrying NHS dismissal cases

Whistleblower doctors are being stifled by health trusts from revealing patient safety concerns, either by being dismissed or silenced by chief executives and medical directors.

The employment tribunal system is being overloaded with cases involving NHS whistleblowers and unfair dismissal claims, which are taking years to progress through the system. A number of cases are taking two or three years before they can be heard.

Trusts are able to use taxpayers’ money to employ barristers to fight the cases over years and doctors are finding that trusts are trawling through NHS records to find evidence that can be used against former employees.

Most doctors are appearing as a ‘litigant in person’ because they do not have the money to employ a lawyer. Many face selling their home or taking on debt in order to clear their name.

The most prominent recent case was that of Dr Chris Day, then a junior doctor in an intensive care unit in a hospital in Woolwich, who reported staff shortages as long ago as 2013 and whose case was covered by the Guardian in 2018.

After a series of tribunal and high court hearings, his case will not be heard until June. Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust has spent nearly £1 million pursuing him.

Cases drag on even after doctors have won their tribunals.

In 2016, consultant urologist Peter Duffy left Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust following alleged retaliation after he flagged multiple failings in the trust’s urology department. A subsequent investigation of the unit revealed that 520 patients there had suffered “actual or potential harm”. He won a case for constructive dismissal in 2018, with a judge ordering all relevant documents held by the trust to be released.

Then, two emails appeared in 2020 suggesting that Mr Duffy was partially responsible for the death of a 76-year-old patient in 2014. Mr Duffy has said that these emails must have been falsified because neither he nor other people in the trust can recall ever seeing them.

However, the trust and NHS England are insisting that they are genuine – after employing a private company to conduct a fresh review two years after losing the case. The company said that the emails were discovered after the trust upgraded its computer system, enabling it to search for more emails.

Concern among doctors is rising, and and an informal organisation – Doctors and Patients for Justice – has been established to provide mutual help and support in forthcoming tribunal cases.

One case currently awaiting a result involves Dr Usha Prasad, the sole woman cardiologist at Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust. She was dismissed after raising whistleblowing and discrimination issues. The trust’s medical director commissioned an investigation alleging that she had made errors in 41 previous operations. The General Medical Council threw out the dossier and decided to revalidate Dr Prasad to practice.

An internal inquiry at the trust later ruled that Dr Prasad was “unfit” to work as a doctor and upheld her dismissal.

It has been now been revealed at an employment tribunal that she was working on an internal investigation into the “avoidable death” of an elderly cardiology patient, and was pressurised to alter the report that the death was avoidable and a recommendation that this should have been reported to the coroner and the Care Quality Commission watchdog.

Now, three years after the event, the trust’s former head of cardiology, Dr Richard Bogle, admitted that it should have informed the coroner and the Care Quality Commission about the case. A ruling on the tribunal hearing is pending.

None of the NHS trusts responded to Byline Times’ request for comment.

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