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Whistleblower forced to pay trust's legal bills backs Nursing Times campaign

A nurse whose whistleblowing case exposed a major loophole in the law designed to protect staff who raise concerns has backed Nursing Times Speak Out Safely campaign.

Jennie Fecitt was one of three nurses who raised concerns about a colleague who had exaggerated his qualifications in discussions with staff at the NHS Manchester walk-in centre where they worked.

It sparked a four year dispute with their employer that ended in the three nurses being forced to pay £21,000 of NHS Manchester’s legal costs, despite writing to then health secretary Andrew Lansley asking him to intervene.

Ms Fecitt said: “It’s a classic example of the bullying culture. It sends completely the wrong message. On the one hand the Department of Health is saying you must allow staff to raise concerns about patient safety and they will not tolerate harassment of whistleblowers, yet [NHS Manchester] pursued us all the way to the Court of Appeal.”

Ms Fecitt and her colleagues Annie Woodcock and Felicity Hughes faced daily personal insults and threats from colleagues after raising concerns in 2008. Hours dried up completely for regular bank nurse Ms Hughes, while the other two were transferred to different roles within NHS Manchester.

They took the primary care trust to an employment tribunal claiming they had suffered unlawful detriment in being moved from the centre, while the colleagues who had victimised them remained in post. However, the judge ruled NHS Manchester could not be held responsible for the actions of its employees under the Public Interest disclosure Act.

They were successful in their appeal. But NHS Manchester refused to accept the decision and took the case to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the original decision and ordered that they pay some of the PCT’s legal fees.

The three nurses were offered a compromise agreement worth £160,000 between them to settle out of court. However, this would have involved them signing a so-called “gagging clause” and they chose to fight on to prove the principal that employers had a duty to protect whistleblowers from discrimination as a result of their actions.

Last week the government announced it would be amending the law to close the loophole and make it clear that employers were liable for the bullying of whistleblowers by their employees.

Ms Fecitt welcomed the move but told Nursing Times much more needed to change to prevent victimisation of whistleblowers in the NHS, starting with a change in culture.

Now working part-time as an emergency nurse practitioner, she also serves on Nursing and Midwifery Council fitness to practise panels and volunteers as lead nurse with whistleblowers organisation Patients First. It is currently supporting more than 40 nurses around the UK who have raised concerns.

“Patient safety has to be the top priority and accountability needs to go all the way to the top,” she said.


Visit our Speak out Safely page to find out more about our campaign.

As part of the campaign we are calling on the government to implement recommendations from the Francis report that will increase protection for staff who raise concerns about patient care, and create a more open NHS. Support our campaign by signing our petition

Readers' comments (16)

  • Unfortunately when you whistleblow you find out how corrupt the top of your organisation can be... and that they appear to be accountable to no-one for their behaviour. NHS Boards must be made accountable to Government for allowing detriment to those who are brave enough to raise concerns.

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  • Well done Jennie. The best way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them and report them. If more people followed your lead the NHs would be a safer, healthier place for its staff and patients. All bullies are insecure at heart. You will win through. Hang in there!

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  • tinkerbell

    Peter Brambleby | 5-Mar-2013 1:59 am

    Totally agree. We must stand up to them and expose them for what they are.

    Anonymous | 5-Mar-2013 1:14 am

    Exactly. This corruption must end if the nursing profession is to survive.

    Hats off to Jenni and others who will not be brow beaten.

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  • George Kuchanny

    Completely agree. The crux of the matter is well covered by the statement "prevent victimisation of whistleblowers in the NHS, starting with a change in culture".

    Tinkerbells comment "This corruption must end if the nursing profession is to survive.
    " is no overstatement.

    Get this damnable bully culture out of the NHS for good. The only way.

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  • there is no reason or excuse for bullying. everybody has a right to express their views and to expect to have them listened to and especially when it concerns citing poor care and and as far as improvements are concerned.

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  • tinkerbell

    I have just emailed my local MP (tory) who informs me he is a staunch supporter of the NHS. He sounds like a decent chap.

    I guess he must be heartily sick of my emails to him but he is trying to reassure me that everythings OK. Somehow i can't bring myself to believe him and have told him that that this government must not ignore nurses on the frontline, we are there every day and know what is going on and we need more feet on the ground not less.

    I ended up just repeating myself over and over again and thought i should bring my email to an end at some point, but managed to get through it all without swearing.

    I said if this government aren't prepared to listen to the recommendations of the francis report what was the point of it?

    My MP tells me not to believe anything i hear from labour, it was them that got us in this mess. I said i don't care anymore about who did what and when. I just want this situation sorted now and i have no trust in the private sector as worked in it once and money came before anything else.

    When your funding ran out whether you were better or not you were shown the door.

    I wonder how long a current government can blame a previous government. Will they go on blaming each other ad infinitum whilst Rome burns.

    I am coming to the end of my career in the NHS, i feel for new nurses coming into it.

    What a dire mess it all is.

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  • It was 5 years ago to the day I blew the whistle to NHS Manchester ... and if asked would I do it again, my answer is yes. I am accountable to make patients my first concern. I am accountable to ensure I and those I delegate nursing care to deliver care that is safe, appropriate and responsive to individual patients needs. I am accountable to my profession to maintain the standards as set out in the NMC Code. I am accountable to uphold the reputation of my profession and maintain public confidence in the nursing profession. That's my accountability, that's what I signed up to 25 years ago ... All I ask is for others to discharge their accountability and ensure my fellow health care professionals and I are protected when we raise concerns about patient safety and / or quality care. I don;t think that is asking too much of any department, team, organisation or healthcare system.

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  • I remember when I made a complaint on behalf my colleagues about a manager. A matron assembled the whole ward staff; and asked people to raise their hands if they had any complaints. Needless to say they did not This was outright intimidation, I had to be present during this episode. I was deliberately and publicly isolated. I went on to take both manager and matron to a disciplinary. Despite having excellent grounds, I only got the merest satisfaction from the hearing. Though it was a small victory. The manager was promoted, I was gob smacked.

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  • Re: NMC and the Code of Conduct.
    I reported a serious breach to the NMC in 2008. I was very concerned about a colleague’s actions and behaviour. The evidence was irrefutable and after reporting it to my local managers and upwards it was obvious that this serious issue was going to be ignored.
    I wrote to the NMC as I should have done in the first instance, it is our duty to report any problems – The NMC then approached the particular Health Authority to check on my report; The Health Authority denied there had been any wrong doing and so The NMC decided to believe and trust the Health Authority rather than myself.
    As things developed and all the facts became known following legal action – A court has accepted the truth of my claim and that I had made an honest report to the NMC and made a protected disclosure to boot.
    When the UK’s governing body for nurses chooses to side with Goliath rather than David what is the point of reporting any serious concerns!

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  • Jennie Fecitt. A heroine to be celebrated.

    Ask where the chief executive who used NHS money to punish her is now?

    Or rather ask David Nicholson.

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  • I don't get this bullying. surely people realise it is wrong and does not achieve anything positive for themselves or their patients. it must make them feel guilty and bad about themselves? could it really be that they do not understand the impact it has on others and the very serious damage it causes?

    it seems easy to say that the bullying culture must be eliminated but don't the root causes and reasons for this devastating affliction need to be sought to really stamp it out?

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  • I raised concerns about a colleagues clinical practice and behaviour to our mutual line manager. I was the 3rd clinician in a row to do so, to the same manager. Performance management? Improving skills through additional training and supervision?
    Nope! I was victimised as were the previous 2 clinicians who had worked with him. We ended up moving to other jobs. I could have continued pursuing the Trust regarding the bullying but after 2 years of getting nowhere I got out! I was struggling with depression and my children were distraught with seeing me in such a state on a daily basis.
    I got a better job and very happy but it still concerns me of damage he may have done/is doing and the feeling that I failed to stop any potential future harm to patients. However the accountability now rests with the organisation as I did all I could do by escalating the issue.
    I greatly admire all whistleblowers who go the whole way as I know how much that has cost them at a personal level. These are the people who should be on the Queens honours list!!

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  • The comments on this post are inspiring!

    To see this passion for doing what is right and the personal costs involved of those brave enough to do it, fills me with pride at being a nurse.

    I hope that if I ever have cause to blow the whistle, that I will have the same Courage. Though these forums and social media, I feel there is now access to wider support and therefore hope others feel the same.

    Good will triumph over this evil (eventually). We have to believe this.

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  • michael stone

    Jennie Fecitt | 5-Mar-2013 5:01 pm

    But you should not be 'bullied or victimised' because 'I am accountable to make patients my first concern': that is a fundamental ethical obligation.

    And FAR TOO MANY clinicians, CLEARLY ARE BEING 'BULLIED' IF THEY RAISE CONCERNS (sorry about the 'shouting' - it needs to be shouted, so that people-at-the-top cannot avoid listening !).

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 5-Mar-2013 7:48 pm

    'The NMC decided to believe and trust the Health Authority rather than myself.'

    I have experienced a similar 'biased attitude' from the PHSO - it seems that things are stacked against individual complainants, and in favour of 'the organisation'.

    Anonymous | 8-Mar-2013 6:20 pm

    I think that the hugely faciltated ease of discussion, through 'social media', etc, is the main hope for positive change - it is much harder to sweep stuff under the carpet now, and much easier to discover tha tothers have had similar unsatistactory experiences to one's own.

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  • there is a lot for the Government to do to protect and support whistle blowers. The government needs to curb on agencies responsible for enforcing patient safety,as they turn to belief whatever they are told by management and disbelief the whistle-blower.
    The whistle blower is then ridiculed and disappointed.

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