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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.



Readers' comments (26)

  • 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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