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Death rate whistleblower says she 'fears sack'

An NHS whistleblower could be sacked for raising concerns that a hospital was fiddling its death rates − bringing into question promises made by ministers to protect those who speak out in the public interest.

Sandra Haynes-Kirkbright last year told the Daily Mail that she was “headhunted” by her employer, Royal Wolverhampton Trust, to “fix” its mortality figures.

Ms Haynes-Kirkbright claimed that “every rule in the book” was broken to try to improve mortality rates, and alleged that she was suspended from her post as a senior “health coder” after refusing to take part in a cover-up.

The trust rejected the allegations of altering the death rates, calling them an “outrageous slur”, and said independently-verified evidence “categorically disproved” her claims.

Its chief executive, David Loughton, said at the time: “Improvements in the hospital’s mortality rates have been audited and independently verified.”

Ms Haynes-Kirkbright was suspended by the trust after allegations of bullying, harassment, persistent swearing and unprofessional behaviour were made against her by colleagues through their union in April 2012.

Last week she received an email ordering her to attend a disciplinary hearing for leaking information about the trust, the Daily Mail reported today. It also warned she could be fired for having spoken out.

In the emailed letter, hospital managers claimed she had “behaved recklessly or negligently in disclosing information regarding the trust to an external source without the trust’s authorisation to do so”, and accused her of breaching employment contracts by speaking to the press.

She was warned “this may result in formal disciplinary action, not excluding dismissal”.

The threat raises further questions about protection for whistleblowers following the Mid Staffordshire scandal, in which hundreds of patients are believed to have died because of poor care.

“The era of gagging NHS staff from raising their real worries about patient care must come to an end”

Jeremy Hunt

In March last year health secretary Jeremy Hunt called for a “culture of openness and transparency” to prevent another case like Mid Staffs.

He said at the time: “The era of gagging NHS staff from raising their real worries about patient care must come to an end.”

The chair of the Commons’ health select committee, Tory MP Stephen Dorrell, has warned that hospitals trying to sack whisteblowers could face action.

He told the Mail: “If it can be shown information has been disclosed in the public interest then any attempt to take disciplinary action against that person should prompt action against the hospital by NHS management.”

Stephen Dorrell

Stephen Dorrell

Ms Haynes-Kirkbright, a health coder who recorded details of the care received by patients, claimed conditions at Wolverhampton were as bad or worse as those at the Stafford trust.

She believed that the hospital wanted to “fix” its death rates rather than improve patient care, and claimed coders were recording too many deaths at the hospital under “palliative care”, the Mail said, which as they were classed as “unavoidable” would not alter the hospital’s mortality rate.

Responding to those allegations, Mr Loughton said: “We categorically deny all the allegations and have provided detailed evidence to the Daily Mail to support our position that the suggestion of any wrong-doing is simply not true.”

 

Readers' comments (8)

  • If there was an open culture in the NHS then whistle blowers would not be needed.
    Some people have a strong moral compass that allows then to do the right thing.
    Whistle Blowers show a huge amount of bravery - In blowing the whistle people risk their own future, their jobs, their health, their relationships – all aspects of their life are changed.

    Either the British public want to know when thing are going wrong so something can be done about them,
    or,
    we accept that bad things will continue to happen because some people in positions of power in the NHS want to continue to cover things up.
    There are no excuses for this behaviour by NHS managers – the public need to see the whistle blower rewarded and the NHS managers who ‘covered up’ the truth removed from post.

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  • michael stone

    I saw this on the front page of The Mail as I was walking by a newstand today - I was going to post that, but NT has beaten me to it.

    I 100% agree with anonymous above (the first poster).

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  • tinkerbell

    Yet again, no lessons have been learned and those who speak up face being persecuted. The message is 'don't speak up or you will lose your job' because when you do speak up the threats and intimidation start. I hope the whistleblower will be getting legal representation and the laws of the land see justice done to this bullying management culture because whistle blowers are usually acting in patients best interests and not for any reward, cos let's face it as it stands and has done for all the time I've known it they usually try to make life so difficult for you you either have a nervous breakdown, commit suicide or leave a gibbering heap, not much reward there.

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  • Absolutely disgraceful if true - which I have no reason to doubt it isn't - the money that is spent on senior and very senior managers in the NHS is a disgrace. These people need to be held to account.

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  • michael stone

    tinkerbell | 3-Mar-2014 2:42 pm

    Tink, just to point this out, as some of the nurses who post on this website (not you, I think) seem to believe that 'the system' sides with relatives and patients who raise concerns. That simply isn't true - your

    'they usually try to make life so difficult for you you either have a nervous breakdown, commit suicide or leave a gibbering heap'

    is what laymen who 'make a fuss' experience as well.

    I got an unsolicited e-mail last week, from a bereaved relative who has clearly been 'driven to distraction' by the way her elderly parent died in a hospital:

    http://www.dignityincare.org.uk/Discuss_and_debate/Discussion_forum/?forumID=45&obj=viewThread&threadID=721

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  • Whistle blowers should be protected. However, being a whistle blower a saint does not make. I don't know the details of this case so I am not saying she is being treated rightly or wrongly. I have no idea. However, someone can be a bully and display inappropriate behaviour in parts of their job AND be a whistle blower in another part. For all we know her possible dismissal has nothing to do with her whistle blowing but everything with her alleged improper conduct.

    If it is true that her allegations are unfounded and the trust can provided independent evidence for this, it must be possible for a trust to take disciplinary measures against false allegations. Again, I don't know if this lady has supplied evidence of her claims that proves what she is saying. Whistle blowers should be protected from the fall out of their whistle blowing. They should not be protected from everything else they may have done wrong. A culture of openness gives rights and responsibilities to all parties.

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  • One of the tactics of malfunctioning and downright dishonest managers is to claim that the whistleblower is not trustworthy. Other staff join in out of sheer fear or not wanting to rock the boat.
    If you look up Dignified Revolution’s Coping with Toxic Organisations paper, on their Healthcare Alliances website, you’ll see some very helpful insights to suggest why staff don’t support one another and why the powerful behave so corruptly.
    What has happened to this whistleblower is so usual and demonstrates that it is still very unsafe to speak out. I would never advise it in the present climate and I so hope that Nursing Times SOS campaign helps to change this. But while such corrupt leaders are in power, there is no hope for the organisations they lead or work in.
    Julie Fagan www.suspension-nhs.org

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  • Julie ,I agree with you. Sadly, whistle blowing is a life threatening activity, only to be undertaken if you can reinvent yourself in another profession.

    The Trusts allegations against Sandra Haynes-Kirkbright, sound exactly like the ones made against the Director from Lincolnshire( forgotten his name) and several others who have tried to "do the right thing" and fallen foul of their organizations. No one who is "doing the dishonest thing" likes to have a spot light shone on them. and most of then know just how to make it a most uncomfortable experience for the WB who does it.

    "Independently verified" evidence in these situations is seldom truly Independent.

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