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