Solicitors for new campaign group Patients First have threatened two London trusts with legal action claiming they may have acted unlawfully in discharging their duties towards whistleblowers.
South London Healthcare Trust and Ealing Hospital Trust have been contacted by the group of NHS whistleblowers as both trusts have had recent high profile cases where a staff member has been suspended after raising concerns.
Consultant Ramon Neikrash was suspended in 2008 by Queen Elizabeth Hospital Trust, now part of South London Healthcare, after writing a series of letters to management warning about the impact of cost cutting. An employment tribunal ruled the suspension was unlawful and Mr Neikrash had been acting as a whistleblower.
A judge at an employment tribunal also found radiology service manager Sharmila Chowdhury had been unfairly treated by Ealing when she was suspended over an unfounded allegation of fraud, after she raised concerns about patient safety and senior doctors carrying out private practise on NHS time.
Patients First, due to launch later today, is spearheaded by Kim Holt, the paediatrician who raised concerns about the clinic where Baby P was seen before he died. She has recently returned to work after more than four years.
The campaign group’s solicitors Leigh Day & Co have written to both Ealing and South London accusing them of failing to follow Department of Health guidance on protecting whistleblowers, Speaking up for a Healthy NHS.
The firm claims the cases of Mr Neikrash and Ms Chowdry highlight “the widespread problem” in the NHS of a lack of appropriate protection for whistleblowers and suggests the trusts “acted unlawfully”.
Both trusts have been asked to provide a copy of their whistleblowing policy, details of logged incidents of whistleblowing over the past 24 months and any documents relating to whistleblowing considered by the trust board.
If the information is not provided within two weeks, the 29 November letter states: “Our client will have no option but to issue proceedings, seeking specific disclosure from the court and a declaration that the trust is acting unlawfully.”
Leigh Day has also written to the Care Quality Commission and NHS London to inform them of the challenge to the trusts and remind them of their respective regulatory and performance management responsibilities.
In response, South London Healthcare Trust said in a statement: “The letter received refers to a case from a number of years back relating to an incident from one of our legacy organisations. We have consistently said that the former Queen Elizabeth Hospital Trust had been wrong to suspend the doctor concerned and that our new trust, created after these incidents occurred, has publicly apologised. We have a policy on whistleblowing in line with DH guidance.
Ealing Hospital NHS Trust said in a statement that it had responded to Leigh Day and Co on 12 December, enclosing a copy of its whistleblowing policy.
The statement said: “The trust has had two cases related to whistleblowing in the last two years and both cases are on-going. In both cases the trust undertook an appropriate internal investigation and in one case commissioned an external investigation to look at the concerns raised which found no wrong doing.”
It added: “The trust is aware of likely amendments to the NHS constitution regarding whistleblowing early next year and if this were to take place the trust’s policy will be amended to reflect these changes.”