Whistleblowing law ‘wholly inadequate’ for protecting staff, say MPs

Senior MPs and campaigners are demanding the government overhauls laws around whistleblowing, calling the current legislation “wholly inadequate” and “not fit for purpose”.

They argue a change in the law is essential to stop the unfair practice of whistleblowers routinely losing their jobs after lifting the lid on often dangerous and illegal practices.

Among those worst affected are NHS doctors, many of whom have been fired after speaking out about malpractice such as bullying, faulty medical equipment and unsafe staffing levels.

The calls for reform come in the wake of deaths at Gosport War Memorial hospital, where at least 456 patients were killed by lethal doses of opiate painkillers given “without medical justification”.

Nurses had raised the alarm more than 20 years before the scandal was finally exposed last month, but their concerns were ignored. At least one of the nurses involved is alleged to have been bullied out of her job after blowing the whistle.

Campaigners warn scandals like Gosport could happen again because employers are not bound by the current law to act on whistleblowers’ concerns.

Their worries were echoed by MPs during a Westminster Hall debate on the issue this week.

Philippa Whitford, the SNP’s health spokeswoman, said: “A nurse had come forward years and years ago, and could have saved hundreds of lives had she been listened to.

“Not being listened to is almost the least that can happen to a whistleblower, in that often they suffer detriment or reprisals and even lose their jobs.”

Care minister Caroline Dinenage said she was “not averse to reviewing the legislation”.

Employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing in their workplace are supposed to be protected by the 1988 Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA).

But the law does not require employers to investigate concerns raised. It only allows staff to sue for compensation if they have suffered harm, such as unfair dismissal, as a result of speaking out.

Those who do sue face lengthy legal battles and can remain blacklisted, their careers in tatters, even if they win. If they lose, they often face financial ruin.

“To battle means, for a lot of people, if they lose the case they lose their house or their mortgage,” said Kevin Beatt, a former consultant cardiologist who was sacked by Croydon NHS trust in 2012. He raised the alarm over staffing shortages and ageing equipment following the death of a patient.

The trust claimed his allegations were “unsubstantiated and unproven” and amounted to gross misconduct, but an employment tribunal in 2014 ruled Dr Beatt had been unfairly dismissed.

Four years later, the 67-year-old has yet to receive compensation and remains effectively unable to work in the NHS.

“The process just goes on and on and on,” Dr Beatt told The Independent. He has been awaiting a High Court remedy hearing to award him compensation for more than a year.

“I’ve spent seven years fighting a dishonest institution, and I’m one of the few whistleblowers to have actually won their case,” he added.

Minh Alexander, a former consultant psychiatrist who was forced out of her job after exposing suicides at her Cambridgeshire mental health trust, said: “It’s rare for any whistleblowers who are involved in prolonged battles of this sort not to develop some form of anxiety or depressive disorder eventually. You can only hold out for so long.

“What employers do is they deflect from the public interest issues and turn the whole thing into an employment issue which pathologises the whistleblower.

“It becomes a witch hunt about trying to claim that the whistleblower is a difficult person, that they are a troublemaker, they are the problem.”

According to the National Guardian’s Office, 356 NHS whistleblowers said they faced reprisals from their employers last year, ranging from “subtle” persecution by closing off career opportunities to being unjustly fired.

Whistleblowers in other public services, as well as other sectors including financial services, face similar recriminations for speaking out.

“I see it across the entire gambit of all forms of employment,” said employment lawyer Jack Mitchell, a leading specialist on whistleblowing and discrimination claims.

Martin Morton, a former social worker at Wirral Council, said bosses drew up “a coordinated plan to get rid” of him after he exposed how the authority was systematically overcharging adults with learning disabilities for rented accommodation.

His revelations eventually triggered independent investigations which forced to council to apologise and repay £450,000 to service users. However, speaking out also cost him his job and left him penniless and suicidal.

In 2011, an independent inquiry concluded senior council officers had bullied Mr Morton and “abused power”.

“Some of the tactics that were used against me were absolutely appalling,” he said. “What these people do is harassment, if you were in any other arena. It’s sustained and it’s cruel.”

Mr Morton reached a settlement with the council in 2014 under laws designed to prevent harassment. He is calling for “serious sanctions”, such as criminal charges, to be introduced to prevent abuse of whistleblowers.

“We need find a way in which whistleblowers do not have to lose everything for doing the right thing,” he added.

Ms Whitford told Advisory Excellence there “has to be some form of enforcement and some form of punishment for public bodies who are brushing things under the carpet and actually shooting the messenger”.

“When someone has real concerns about how a trust or department is being run or how an individual is behaving, they need to be able to come forward safely or else you are exposing the public to danger,” the MP added.

Mr Mitchell, who has worked extensively on whistleblowing cases in the two decades since PIDA was introduced, said it was clear the law “just isn’t working”.

He called on the government to establish a “dedicated and distinct tribunal” to investigate whistleblowing claims. This would mean employees avoid lengthy and costly legal battles with their employers, who under the current system can spend millions in public money fighting the case.

Only 3 per cent of cases are won by whistleblowers at employment tribunals, although others reach settlements with their employers.

“There is no real remedy other than compensation after you’ve lost your career,” added Mr Mitchell. “Why should whistleblowers suffer so much? I’ve won cases for employees and I’ve yet really to have any of them say, ‘yep, I’d do that again’.”

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat former care minister, said whistleblowers “literally risk everything to speak out”.

He added: “It will be one the things, in terms of lessons learned from Gosport, that needs to change, and not just with new rules for the healthcare system.

“You have to people willing to speak out when things go wrong or when there is wrongdoing, in any sector of the economy. If you don’t, then wrongdoing continues and is rewarded.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We expect all NHS organisations to support whistleblowers and take claims seriously. We want NHS staff to feel supported to speak up when they have concerns – that’s why we legislated in May this year to protect whistleblowers from discrimination when applying for jobs and every NHS organisation is required to have a Freedom To Speak Up guardian – there are now over 560 in place.”

Consulting PHOTO

The best consulting firms for Healthcare, Pharma and Life Sciences

The healthcare consultancy industry comprises of a handful of global firms and huge array of small/boutique to medium size firms that specialise exclusively in this area focusing their efforts across the whole value chain, from R&D to product launch, whilst others may focus on a specific portion of the lifecycle.

As the National Health Service continues to seek out savings opportunities while the government remains reluctant to up spending on the institution and, as health insurance and pharmaceutical costs threaten to spike in the near future, consulting firms are in demand in both the private and public sector to help the health industry negotiate the issues of the day. Now, a new survey conducted by professional services firm IgeaHub has revealed which consulting companies are considered the best in the healthcare space.

Following a large polling process among life science and healthcare industry executives, researchers, investors, health policymakers and patient advocates in 2017, the researchers found that QuintilesIMS – recently rebranded as IQVIA – McKinsey & Company, ZS Associates, Accenture and Deloitte provide the best consultancy services in the healthcare and pharmaceuticals landscape.

The best consulting firms for Healthcare, Pharma and Life Sciences

American multinational IQVIA, formerly QuintilesIMS, works to serve the combined industries of health information technologies and clinical research. The firm, which rebranded in November 2017, boasts approximately 55,000 employees in more than 100 countries. Last summer, the firm entered into a strategic collaboration with the NHS Cancer Vanguard, with a view to contributing its anonymous patient level, real world data on drug usage treatment costs and outcomes, in order to extend the capabilities of the national body.

Second placed McKinsey & Company and fifth placed Deloitte were both recently named top healthcare consultancies for the UK by Statista and the Financial Times. McKinsey reportedly struck a lucrative deal with NHS Improvement for a new partnership to “develop our internal organisational development work”, and to clarify NHS Improvement’s “purpose and operating model” – according to the Health Service Journal. Deloitte was meanwhile a recipient of several accolades at the most recent HealthInvestor awards.

Professional services firm Zs ranked third. The company’s Medical Products and Services practice provides a wide range of sales and marketing consulting, outsourcing and technology offerings to medical device and diagnostics companies as well as those specialising in medical supplies, equipment, distribution and healthcare services. The firm counts household healthcare names such as Astra-Zeneca, Bayer, GE Healthcare and Pfizer among its clients. Multifaceted IT and advisory firm Accenture meanwhile positioned fourth. Accenture recently published research suggesting that by making the overall healthcare industry more efficient, artificial intelligence applications could create $150 billion in annual healthcare savings in the US by 2026.

Rounding off the top ten, BCG – which appointed a new Associate Director for its Healthcare practice in the form of Chris Bergstrom – Clearview, Navigant, PwC, the Advisory Board Company all ranked highly among healthcare executives. Founded in 2007, ClearView Healthcare Partners is a global strategy consulting firm serving the life sciences sector, while Navigant has been working to expand its health offering over a number of years – including the acquisition of services provider Revenuemed. Big Four firm PwC has one of the largest healthcare networks advising clients – including policy makers, healthcare providers, payers and health sciences – to meet the challenges of addressing value, new entrants and new global markets, while the Advisory Board Company recently sold its healthcare assets to Optum, part of UnitedHealth Group, in a deal worth $1.3 billion including debt.

Rounding off the 20 firms named by IgeaHub, Big Four member EY ranked 11th; with Huron, which recently acquired HSM Consulting, L.E.K. Consulting, which recently boosted its healthcare wing with three new senior staff; international strategy firm Bain & Company, and global management consultancy FTI Consulting. Concluding the list were Chicago-based The Chartis Group, life-sciences and health strategy specialist Health Advances and Kaiser Associates, a boutique strategy consulting firm based in Washington DC and London, as well as Marsh McLennan Companies subsidiaries Mercer and Oliver Wyman.

Theresa May secures Brexit deal with EU after all-night talks

The EU and UK are ready to move to trade negotiations after the PM made a pre-dawn trip to Brussels to secure a divorce deal.

The Prime Minister has secured a deal with the EU to push Brexit negotiations to their next phase following an all-night diplomatic scramble.

In an early morning news conference in Brussels – after sharing breakfast with Theresa May – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared “sufficient progress” had now been achieved on initial divorce matters.

Hailing the agreement as the product of “compromise” from all sides, the EU boss paved the way for Brexit talks to now advance onto details of a transition period and the final post-Brexit EU-UK relationship.

Mr Juncker expressed confidence leaders of the 27 other EU member states would accept the agreement and therefore move to the second phase of negotiations at a Brussels summit next week.

The Prime Minister described the deal as “a hard-won agreement in all our interests”.

Standing alongside Mr Juncker at the news conference, Mrs May told reporters the agreement would guarantee the rights of three million EU citizens living in the UK.

These would be “enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts”, the Prime Minister said.

She added the so-called Brexit bill, which could be as much as £50bn, would be “fair to the British taxpayer” and also insisted the agreement offered a guarantee there would be “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Moving on to the second phase of Brexit talks, which will include discussions on a transition period, will be welcomed by businesses.

They have warned the Prime Minister a lack of clarity about such a period before the end of the year might lead to them taking decisions that would see investment and jobs moving out of the UK.

There was no immediate backlash from Conservative Brexiteers on the terms of the deal.

Environment Secretary and Vote Leave architect Michael Gove said: “This is a significant achievement because it means the rights of EU citizens are protected in the UK, the rights of UK citizens are protected in the EU.

“We have an agreement that no EU country will be out of pocket as a result of our departure.

“But there will be more money for the NHS and for schools and for housing in this country as a result of our leaving the EU.

“And also we can now get on to talking about that free-trade deal.

“It’s a significant step forward and it’s one I think the overwhelming majority of people in Parliament and in the country will welcome.”

His fellow Cabinet Brexiteer and Vote Leave figurehead, Boris Johnson, praised Mrs May’s “determination in getting today’s deal”.

But, in an apparent warning to the Prime Minister, he insisted a future trade deal must remain “true to the referendum result” by “taking back control of our laws, money and borders for the whole of the UK”.

The deal was also welcomed by prominent Remain supporters on the Tory benches.

In a late night tweet, the Government’s Chief Whip, Julian Smith, made a pledge to Conservative MPs that he would ensure their opinions were listened to during the next phase of negotiations.

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the deal would allow Mrs May to move on to “the next stage of humiliation” in Brexit talks.

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, cautiously welcomed the agreement as “encouraging” but urged the Prime Minister to adopt a different approach to Brexit.

He said: “As the talks now move on to a discussion about Britain’s future relationship with the EU, Theresa May must seriously reflect on her approach to the negotiations so far.

“We cannot have another year of chaos and confusion or the farcical scenes we saw earlier on in the week that put jobs and the economy at risk.”

The Prime Minister and Brexit Secretary David Davis arrived in Brussels shortly before 6am on Friday, where they held a breakfast meeting with Mr Juncker and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

It followed an agreement being reached by Mrs May with Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, who had rejected an initial draft agreement the Prime Minister had hoped to seal on Monday.

Mrs Foster told Sky News “substantial changes” to the text had been made to ensure Northern Ireland would leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.