THE TORY health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, yesterday announced that the government is to issue for consultation draft guidelines that, it claims, will end the blacklisting of NHS whistleblowers.
The treatment of doctors and nurses who have raised serious issues about the practices carried out in some NHS trusts, practices that have endangered the life and safety of patients, has been a burning issue for years. These proposals would give whistleblowers the right to register a claim with an employment tribunal if they believe they have suffered discrimination as a result of them raising concerns.
In past years there have been numerous cases where staff making complaints about patient safety have been dismissed and their employment records labelling them as ‘troublemakers’ effectively ensuring that they were blacklisted from obtaining other posts within the health service.
In addition to being able to raise a case for discrimination, applicants will also have the right to bring a claim to court in order to prevent any further discriminatory conduct by NHS trusts. The draft guidelines also say that discrimination carried out against a whistleblower by another NHS worker will be regarded as discrimination by the NHS body involved itself, in other words the body or trust will be liable for discrimination carried out by one of its staff.
Hunt was quick to claim that: ‘Today we move another step closer to creating a culture of openness in the NHS, where people who have the courage to speak up about safety concerns are listened to, not vilified.’
This new proposal is, in fact, a complete evasion by Hunt and the Tories, designed to divert attention from the real crisis that is driving the NHS into the ground. Firstly, any whistleblower seeking redress from blacklisting by taking their case to employment tribunals will face the massive financial risks introduced by the Tories specifically to deter people from going to tribunals at all.
For Type B claims, which already covers claims for discrimination, you have to pay an issuing fee of £250 and then a hearing fee of £950, making a total of £1,200 just to get your case heard and there is always the prospect of the tribunal ordering an appellant to pay all or some of the other side’s costs if you lose your claim.
More importantly, the massive crisis in hospitals is not down to a few uncaring, brutal NHS staff as Hunt is keen to suggest. It lies squarely with a Tory government that is deliberately bankrupting the health service, forcing through cuts that have led to a huge crisis in staffing which in turn has led to the conditions where patient care and safety is being compromised daily.
The latest whistleblower was none other than NHS Providers, which represents hospital, mental health trusts and ambulance trust bosses. They warned at the weekend that due to Tory cuts ‘under-staffing is fast becoming the norm’ and that they ‘feared for patient safety’ as a result.
Like the other big whistleblowers, such as the Red Cross which warned of a ‘humanitarian crisis’ or the hospital doctors who last week blew the whistle on how wards are full to overflowing without staff to cope, leading to sliding standards of patient care, the Tories will simply ignore them as they continue the drive to bankrupt the NHS and pave the way for wholesale privatisation of a ‘failing’ health service.
The general secretary of the RCN, Janet Davies, correctly pointed out that while welcoming ‘all measures to support staff in raising concerns the best way to provide safe patient care is to have enough staff in the first place.’
She added: ‘NHS staff must be supported in blowing the whistle but the Health Secretary must also listen to their warnings. Health professionals across the board are blowing the whistle to tell Jeremy Hunt that services are becoming less safe, not more, on his watch.’
Hunt and the Tories will not listen to these whistleblowers; the only way to deal with the Tories is by bringing them down through the organisation of a general strike and going forward to a workers government that will guarantee a health service that is fully funded and staffed.