A consultant pediatrician who had come forth with concerns about a clinic where Baby Peter was treated days before his death has accused NHS managers of using employment laws to gag potential whistleblowers.
Dr. Kim Holt added that there was a need to “change the culture of the NHS to one of openness and transparency and not one where the truth is often hidden and employment laws misused to silence critics.” “Whistleblowing should be actively encouraged within the NHS. As the evidence given to the Mid Staffordshire inquiry from people too scared to raise concerns showed, without the 'safety valve' provided through an effective whistleblowing procedure patients may be harmed or even killed,” she said before the formal launch of a lobby group, Patients First, made up of whistleblowers within the NHS.
They are also skeptical about plans by the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to tighten up the whistle blowing policy by incorporating it into the NHS constitution next year. Dr Holt said that it had not legal foundation and so could not be challenged.
In 2006 she and colleagues raised concerns over poor record-keeping and understaffing at St Ann's clinic in Haringey, north London, a move she has previously said led to her being removed from the clinic. The following summer, Peter Connelly was seen by an inexperienced locum doctor days before he was killed. The locum failed to spot signs that the 17-month-old boy, who was on Haringey's child protection register, had been physically abused. Holt has also said she was offered £120,000 to withdraw her complaints after Baby Peter's death, a claim Great Ormond Street denied, but in June this year, the hospital, which supplied doctors for the clinic and Haringey primary care trust, apologized for the “difficult time” she had had. Holt now works at the Whittington hospital in north London.
At the launch will be Sharmila Chowdhury, a radiology service manager who was sacked by Ealing Hospital NHS Trust after she had repeatedly warned that senior doctors were moonlighting at a private hospital while being paid to diagnose NHS patients. Counter allegations were made against Ms Chowdhury of fraud which were never proved. At an employment tribunal interim hearing last year the judge ordered the trust to reinstate Ms Chowdhury's full salary. However, the trust has not reinstated her.
The health minister Anne Milton said, “Staff on the frontline know when patient services need to improve. That's why staff who blow the whistle are crucial in helping to raise standards and we are determined to support them. We have already brought in a contractual right to raise concerns and issued clear guidance to NHS organizations that all their contracts of employment should cover staff whistle blowing rights. We are also putting the rights of whistleblowers in the NHS Constitution. So-called 'gagging clauses' are simply unacceptable, and void under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. We will continue to do everything we can to support whistleblowers.”