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'Dedicated' nurse wins payout after receiving threats for blowing whistle

A “dedicated and hardworking” nurse who blew the whistle about patient safety has won more than £80,000 in compensation after she was unfairly targeted for speaking out by her former employer.

An employment tribunal ruled that Allied Healthcare Group had unfairly dismissed Elaine Fernandez and subjected her to poor treatment, when she raised concerns about service changes affecting the care of a patient.

“When you are not listened to about patient safety concerns it is really hard and you feel a sense of despair”

Elaine Fernandez

The tribunal ruled the company – which provides domiciliary care across the UK – viewed Ms Fernandez as a “troublemaker” and a threat to its commercial interests.

Ms Fernandez was working 48 hours a week for the company in Aberporth in Wales, as part of a team of nurses and healthcare assistants which had been caring for a disabled patient since 2009.

In October 2011 Hywel Dda Health Board, which commissioned the service, made plans to change the care package so that all registered nurses were replaced with healthcare assistants.

Ms Fernandez was concerned about the dilution of skill mix and sent a confidential email to the health board in October 2011 raising concerns that the HCAs did not have the necessary skills to care for the patient. But this was forwarded only hours later to her managers at Allied who threatened her with disciplinary action the next day.

Ms Fernandez continued to note her concerns in the patient’s logbook, prompting further warnings and threats from the company who at one stage suspended her for not attending a meeting organised while she was on holiday.

Elaine Fernandez

Elaine Fernandez (left) with members of her family

On another occasion, managers for the company attempted to encourage the patient’s husband to make a complaint about Ms Fernandez after he had voiced fears to the nurse about his wife’s care. When he refused, they sent her a warning letter anyway claiming he had complained.

Ms Fernandez was eventually removed from the care package in September 2012 and offered no further work, despite vacancies being available.

The tribunal ruled that Ms Fernandez was unfairly dismissed and suffered “detriments” due to her whistleblowing. It said her “sole motive” for speaking out was “to protect the safety and welfare” of her patient and described her as a “dedicated and hardworking nurse”. It ordered Allied to pay her £81,608.

Speaking to Nursing Times, Ms Fernandez said: “Whistleblowing is traumatic, but it’s not something you have a choice about. In my case I knew the patient was at risk from staff who were not properly trained.

“When you are not listened to about patient safety concerns it is really hard and you feel a sense of despair about the whole system,” she said. “The whole experience was traumatic.”

“We have new systems to enable our colleagues to raise concerns of any kind”

Allied Healthcare

Following the case, Allied Healthcare said it had changed its processes for implementing service changes to ensure similar incidents do not happen again.

A spokeswoman for company said: “We have new systems to enable our colleagues to raise concerns of any kind, with new processes and protections that we believe are now the best in the sector. We are confident these will ensure this situation could not reoccur.

She added: “Ultimately in this case both parties wanted to make sure the patient got the right care, however the change process could have been made much clearer. We now spend more time explaining change to our workers and helping them through it.”

The government announced last month that Sir Robert Francis QC is to lead a new review into how whistleblowers are treated in the NHS.

The former chair of the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry has been asked to consider what further action is necessary to protect NHS workers who speak out in the public interest. It follows calls for a public inquiry into whistleblowing by the campaign group Patients First.

Nursing Times launched the Speak Out Safely campaign last March to make it easier for staff to raise legitimate concerns about patient safety. One of our goals is for all trusts to pledge their support for the campaign and add specific protection for staff raising concerns to whistleblowing policies.

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Readers' comments (25)

  • michael stone

    'after she was unfairly targeted for speaking out by her former employer'.

    There is very clearly still far too much of that going on - I hope this court case helps.

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  • Good for her and others must be encouraged although it is sad there is a need for NHS to have to pay for such cases where the money should be wisely invested. Hopefully this has fully reimbursed Ms Fernandez for any loss of earnings and has had no long term effects on her health, family and future career. despicable behaviour on the part of her managers and employers.

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  • Allied Healthcare is owned by a hedge fund whose only interest is making money

    Who will be held accountable at the Health Board for throwing this nurse to the wolves?

    This goes on 18 months after Francis......

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  • Interestingly if you visit the Allied Healthcare website it gives no information about directors, owners, senior management.
    I always find that to be a worrying sign.
    I am still amazed by the number of health organisations we speak to who say that "we are sure people can speak out openly if they want" without stopping (or maybe wanting) to check this is the case.

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  • I have reported abuse for over 20 years so am used to being vilified and lied about by employers.
    However with the last reported incident it is the adult safeguarding unit are attacking me. It used to be the CQC and its predecessors who were in a cosy cosy relationship with private providers but now seem to have claimed their independence.
    County Safeguarding units seem to have taken their place round the providers coffee table seems and doing their dirty work for them

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  • As a former RCN Officer I have supported whistleblowers who have really suffered for speaking out. I am not a vindictive person but I really hope that some of those senior managers involved will get bad Karma in the end.
    My advice to anyone wanting to blow the whistle on bad care is to make sure you keep really accurate, dated records and get help and advice from whichever union you belong to and if you don't belong to one join now because it is so hard on your own.

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  • Can you imagine how impossible it is to whistle blow if you actually have done something wrong yourself and are trying to instigate changes to prevent someone else making the same error?

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  • This situation simply appears to reinforce the chasm between the political philosophy of privatisation and the reality of policy execution. If the NHS continues to expand their private sector activities then, given that this sector is fundamentally responsive to private profit, any concerns concerning public benefit have to be regulated by legislated authority. Such regulation requires the power of punitive financial sanctions when considerations of profit compromise patient wellbeing. In this context the legitimate activities of professionals acting as whistleblowers seems to be a vital indicator of such issues.

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  • More people need to speak up for patient safety. The nhs appear to be the worst for the treatment of whistleblowers and until the whole system is cleaned dedicated nurses will continue to suffer for speaking out, I know because it has happened to me and I am still fighting to be heard

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  • Apart from the patient care issues, it was totally wrong and a serious breach of confidentiality and breach of data protection for the health board to forward a confidential email to Allied. Who is accountable at the health board? What investigation did they do? I am fed up with people having no accountability.

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  • Managers do what they want and send any emails they want 'in the interests of ????' which means in the interests of protecting their backs and keeeping nurses quiet.
    I have kept documentation on cases I have been involved in and will probably retire soon SOOOOOOO i will be writting a article, hopefully for publication, dealing with the whistleblowing I have done since 1994 to July 2013
    I work in a fantastic home in Northumberland. The residents come 1st, 2nd and every detail of their care is really thought through

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  • It is worth reading the judgement in this case. Ms F has 12 years unblemished service with Allied. She blew the whistle when Hywel Dda Health Board and Allied suddenly decided to downgrade a complex care package that had not changed for over 10 years, in a patient with a progressive condition and complex needs, seemingly to save costs. Both senior managers (RGN's) responsible for the majority of the poor treatment of Ms F were promoted. The whole things makes you shudder.

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  • Where is Mr Purt of Hywel Dda Health Board in all of this? The whistleblow went to his office?

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  • I am a HCA and I have spoken out and raised Concerns on Patient Safety Issues since 2013 on a ward I work on in the NHS.Nothing has been done and sadly things have gone from Bad to worse for me.I have been subjected to Harassment and bullying.Malicious complaints have been made against me.I am still working but currently off sick due to what is happening at work.I am now waiting for a disciplinary hearing because another Malicious complaint has been made against me.It has and still is very stressful for me to cope with.My number one priority are the patients.They come first.I have been labelled as some sort of a troublemaker.I have been keeping a diary for over a year and I have dates,times of when things have happened.There should be more protection for people who speak up regarding poor patient Care but sadly this is not the case.Things need to change.I have applied for many jobs and had lots of Interviews but so far I have not managed to secure different employment.I am not sure how this is all going to end up for me.

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  • Dear HCA1972
    If you live in Wales I suggest seriously that you contact the Older People Commissioner if what you have witnessed involves an older person. There is a contact number on her website and someone will treat you with dignity and respect. I suggest that you photocopy your diary and send her a copy as this is evidence.
    I am appalled at Hwyel Dda and I hope that the Commissioner has been informed about this too. The Director of Nursing at Hwyel Dda advised the Prof June Andrews Trusted to Care inquiry into ABMU Health Board in Wales, and therein lies anther tale. The Director of Nursing there although the nursing manager of appalling nursing practice on her wards for the past few years has been seconded to Chief Nurse's office in Welsh Government and rewarded with a job leading the development of care standards in the NHS. Unbelievable. Look at the Facebook page called ABMU Victims Support. It reads very like Mid Staffs.

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  • Anonymous | 7-Jul-2014 5:16 pm

    Good luck with that!

    The local press in the north east are useless: they ignored many complaints by staff and patients and families at a certain unit in a large trust in the area at which there was eventually a fatal incident which meant the trust in question had to be seen to do something. Even then the local press merely reported the trust press releases...

    The national press are not much better (I have, for example, recently been struggling to get The Guardian to acknowledge some factual errors in some of their MH reporting) and the nursing press, IME, rarely want to know (yes, Nursing Times that includes you!).

    Attracting attention to poor care and the like remains very difficult.

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  • michael stone

    I found an e-mail in my InBox today, and it seems the response to the 'duty of candour consultation' is now out (which is of course relevant to 'whistleblowing'), and if anyone is interested and hasn't yet found out this information, the e-mail text was:

    I’m writing to let you know that the Department of Health yesterday published its response to the consultations on fundamental standards, the Duty of Candour and the fit and proper persons requirement, and also laid regulations before Parliament to introduce these measures.

    Thanks to all of you who responded to the consultation and took the time to share your expertise with us.

    The consultation response is here:

    https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fundamental-standards-for-health-and-social-care-providers

    The final regulations are here:
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2014/9780111117613

    The fundamental standards, the Duty of Candour and the fit and proper persons requirement will be debated in Parliament at some point in the next few months, and if passed, will come in to force in the following sequence:

    • The Duty of Candour will be introduced for NHS bodies only in October 2014

    • The fit and proper persons requirement will be introduced for NHS bodies only in October 2014

    • The fundamental standards will be introduced for all providers in April 2015

    • The Duty of Candour and fit and proper persons requirements will be extended to all CQC-registered providers from April 2015.

    Please see the consultation response for full details and explanation of our approach.

    Doubtless NT will run a piece about this (I have not trawled the 'site today, so there might already be a piece).

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  • I wonder. Will the NMC examine the actions of the nurse managers responsible for victimising Ms Fernandez??

    Or do they get off scot free as usual while the registrant on the front line takes all the risks?

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  • It is so easy to "blame" managers when things go wrong...........there are two sides to every story. Managers are also often held to ransom for changes beyond their control. If the nurse involved was concerned regarding the actions of the RGN managers involved, under the NMC code of conduct she had a responsibility to raise these concerns with the NMC under the section "manage risk" points 32-34.

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  • Anonymous | 10-Jul-2014 10:21 am:
    Those managers are also bound to raise those same concerns too though, don't you think? If they're clinical/NMC registered. So I disagree that they are powerless as you suggest.

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