Solicitors representing a group of NHS whistleblowers have refused to rule out launching judicial reviews against the Care Quality Commission, NHS London and two London acute trusts who they claim failed to protect staff who raised concerns.
The CQC and the capital’s strategic health authority were each given two weeks to comply with a request from Patients First’s legal team for documentation demonstrate they have taken action to protect whistleblowers. As reported earlier this week, a similar request has been made to South London Healthcare Trust and Ealing Hospital Trust.
All four organisations have responded to the request and the information is being analysed by solicitors at Leigh Day & Co.
However, solicitor Richard Stein told HSJ that from an initial examiniation it did not appear any of the four organisations were complying with the Department of Health’s Speaking up for a Healthy NHS guidance, making a judicial review more likely.
He said there was no evidence either trust had recently reviewed and refreshed its whistleblowing policy or surveyed staff to see if they feel safe raising concerns as the guidance recommends.
“Just having a policy in place doesn’t deliver an environment where whistleblowers feel safe,” he added.
The trusts were chosen as they have had recent high profile whistleblowing cases, while the CQC and NHS London were challenged over whether they had taken action to protect whistleblowers in each trust in line with their respective responsibilities.
In statements both trusts said their whistleblowing policies were in line with DH guidance.
Patients First is led by Kim Holt, the paediatrician who whistle blew about the clinic where Baby P was seen before he died and includes managers as well as a range of other clinicians.
Speaking at the launch last week, Dr Holt said there was a need to change the culture in the NHS to one of “openness and transparency and not one where the truth is often hidden”.
The organisation is co chaired by Peter Dawson who lost his job after raising concerns about safety of the service he was involved in as a consultant radiologist at Hammersmith Hospitals Trust in the late 1990s.
Speaking at the launch, he said there were lots of similarities between cases where NHS staff had chosen to blow the whistle, notably that they were often isolated or faced false or vexatious counter accusations.
He urged managers to be aware of how easy it could be to collect “evidence” of concerns about a doctor’s performance as all clinicians make mistakes from time to time.
Dr Dawson said “good management had nothing to fear from whistleblowers” but managers were often “sold a pup” by clinical colleagues.