- St Andrew’s Healthcare unfairly sacked nurse who had whistleblown in previous jobs, fearing he would do so again
- Noel Finn had previously worn hidden camera to expose wrongdoing at benefits assessment service for Dispatches
- He got job at St Andrews shortly before documentary about charity by Dispatches — but was not involved
A large mental health provider unfairly dismissed a nurse with a record of whistleblowing because it feared he was seeking to highlight care failures, a tribunal has ruled.
A judge decided Noel Finn was wrongly dismissed by St Andrew’s Healthcare, largely because of his roles in exposing scandals at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre and in the government’s Personal Independence Payments assessment centre.
The tribunal’s judgement, released last week, showed the charity was worried Mr Finn was going to investigate their organisation, and forced him out in 2017.
From 2006 to 2009, Mr Finn had whistleblown about facilities run by Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust.
Between October 2012 and April 2013, he raised concerns about the care of detainees at Yarl’s Wood with the centre’s operator Serco.
In 2016, he worked undercover for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme to highlight the mistakes that followed Personal Independence Payment assessments being made by nurses who were not competent to make accurate judgements. He also raised the issue that a bonus scheme introduced by operators Capita incentivised staff to process assessments as quickly as possible, which made them less accurate.
In February 2017, he was given work as a staff nurse at St Andrew’s in the East Midlands.
A Dispatches documentary exposing failures at the charity was broadcast on 1 March 2017, and was widely reported.
In his findings of fact, the employment judge hearing the case found the programme had “nothing to do with Mr Finn, who had not been approached by the Dispatches team for help”.
On 14 and 16 March 2017, Mr Finn raised concerns with managers at St Andrew’s about low staffing levels, inadequate medication management, the difficulty of accessing patient records on the IT system and other issues. He was suspended on 22 March, after which Mr Finn raised complaints with the charity’s then chief executive Gil Baldwin about being suspended because of his previous whistleblowing.
The tribunal reviewed a number of internal emails sent between senior staff once they realised Mr Finn had previously worked with Dispatches.
The judgement said these emails showed Mr Finn had also aroused suspicion by “refusing to do medications and turning up to one of the wards in a suit and asking staff lots of questions”.
In relation to other emails, the judge said: “One gains the impression that they are searching for justification to suspend Mr Finn.”
One email said: “How about [it] appears that he didn’t fully disclose history during the recruitment process which could constitute a breach of trust and confidence”.
Judge Martin Warren said: “We can see in the email chain, they are looking for justification to treat that [the lack of full disclosure] as some kind of serious misconduct.”
He later added the emails showed Mr Finn did not receive responses to his subsequent letters and that “this was deliberate, in the respondent’s [St Andrew’s] words they were, ‘keeping Mr Baldwin clean’”.
The judgement said St Andrew’s had refused to release unredacted versions of emails to the tribunal showing who had sent messages between “senior people in the organisations” – a decision it described as “remarkable”.
The judgement added: “The identity of the recipients of those emails is highly significant, highly relevant.”
Judge Warren said in his conclusion: “Having heard evidence from Mr [Paul] Bentham, [the then director of the charity’s child and adolescent services] considered the paucity of the investigation [into Mr Finn’s grievance about being victimised], the inadequacy of the reasons for dismissal offered by the respondent, the inadequacy of Mr Bentham’s evidence, the apparent involvement of senior members of the respondent’s management, we conclude the protected disclosures collectively are indeed the principal reason for dismissal and that Mr Finn was therefore unfairly dismissed.”
A remedy hearing is expected this month.
HSJ approached Mr Finn but received no comment.
A spokeswoman for St Andrew’s said the charity was ”disappointed at the outcome of the tribunal” but said it could not comment further because a remedy hearing was due.
There have been a number of changes to St Andrew’s high-level staff since the events of the tribunal. Mr Baldwin stepped down in January 2018. The charity’s annual accounts show Mr Baldwin was paid six months in lieu of notice, taking his total remuneration for the year to 15 months’ worth of salary — a total of £496,000.
Katie Fisher took over as chief executive in June 2018.
Chair Peter Winslow, who had acted as executive chair for six months before Ms Fisher was appointed, stepped down in July 2019 and was replaced by former Royal College of Nursing boss Peter Carter.
Lisa Cairns became chief nurse in June 2019, replacing Dean Howells, who stepped down in January 2019. He took up the nurse director’s role at Camden and Islington Foundation Trust in June.
Two other directors resigned in early 2018.