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Speak out Safely

Why you should follow the Gary Walker case this week

Gary Walker is a former chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust. He claims he was forced out of his job in 2009 after trying to alert the strategic health authority to problems in his trust that were putting patients at risk.

He broke his so-called supergag on February 14 this year to speak out about the issues at his former trust, and how he had been silenced. The flurry of media attention this attracted has led to Mr Walker having frequent television, radio and print appearances during the past month. As a result of his profile being raised, he has been asked to present evidence at the Commons Health Select Committee on Tuesday March 19. Nursing Times will be there to cover the event live so follow us on twitter @nursingtimessos or nursingtimes.net/SOS

So, here are five reasons why you should follow the case.

  1. The former chief executive alleges he blew the whistle directly to Sir David Nicholson about his concerns regarding patient safety at the trust. As the NHS chief executive finds himself constantly under pressure at the moment, Mr Walker’s evidence could be powerful in its attempts to displace the man who has faced more and more calls to resign since the publication of the Francis report.
  2. Mr Walker is likely to reveal some issues about using public money to cover up secrets within the NHS that will not sit well with the public and patients. It could pile on the pressure for a more open and transparent NHS.
  3. The claims that Mr Walker made about safety have always been denied by the trust, which stated that he left his job over conduct issues (he was sacked for swearing at a meeting, a claim his supporters have claimed is trumped up). Since the launch of Nursing Times Speak Out Safely campaign, we have found lots of nurses who have been sent to occupational health after raising concerns. The attempt to discredit the whistleblower either by suggesting they are ill or incompetent is thought to be common. This could change the way whistleblowers are viewed forever.
  4. Mr Walker alleges that he was gagged a week after the former health secretary Andrew Lansley last banned gagging clauses, which will undermine Jeremy Hunt’s latest outlawing of NHS gags. Mr Walker’s case could see them – and retrospective gags on staff – truly undermined, enabling more staff to speak publicly about their concerns.
  5. His evidence could focus on the bullying “kiss up, kick down” culture of the NHS, which he claims he was a victim of. Certainly, this has been one of the most talked-about problems with the NHS. It was what prevented Helene Donnelly, the A&E nurse at Mid Staffs, as well as many others from being taken seriously.

Catch up on what’s happened so far with the Gary Walker timeline.

Click here to sign our petition calling on the government to strengthen protection of whistleblowers.

Readers' comments (19)

  • Anonymous

    Point 3 recurs. In almost all reported NHS disputes between Trusts and anyone else (clinicians or patients or relatives) by the time it reaches the equivalent of some sort of court, one side and the other invariably dispute what actually happened.

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  • I will follow with interest. Did he get to keep his half million or so redundancy pay?

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  • His 500K was a gagging payment and lawyers have threatened to take it back if he speaks out but he has anyway. It may sound like a lot but minus legal fees and basically never being able to work in the NHS again, given he's in his 40s, it's less money than it sounds. Definitely one to watch.

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  • Met some of the most appalling managers in the NHS.....and some of the most outstanding....bullying is commonplace and inadequate management everywhere you look. Time for a major shake up

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  • mangers need adequate training the knowledge of healthcare and the needs of patients, and staff to deliver good care, to allow them to work as valuable members of the teams so that the whole service is united in meeting the same patient centred goals.

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  • The Nobody | 18-Mar-2013 11:55 pm

    I wouldn't feel too sorry for him. He has cleverly adopted a high media profile. He'll most likely get to keep the £500k and the fact of him being so visible, will probably discourage his previous employers from pursuing him too vigorously. As to his future, he will have no trouble gaining some kind of consultancy/advocacy post within one of the many whistleblower organisations or similar. I am happy that this guy has decided to speak out, but I'm not comfortable seeing him presented as a martyr. Many nurses and medics have spoken out, been horrendously bullied and have been left with nothing.

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  • I am at present,in exactly the same position as mr walker,with the same trust,they are bullies ,and there has been a lot of covering up for many years,i applaud this man he is a hero in my eyes,but,its always the same ,unless it directly affects you or your loved ones ,no one really cares,but everyone should remember ,one day we will almost all be lying in a hospital bed at some point.

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  • Anonymous | 19-Mar-2013 5:52 pm

    You're absolutely right. I've only got direct personal experience of a medic being hounded out of a job (unbelievable racism) and he practically ended up with PTSD - but the more I read about bullying of clinical staff the worse it is. And they have professional registration to worry about. Most identify so strongly with their jobs, it's harder to do something different. But I am glad all the nasty secrets are being forced out into the open.

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  • The Nobody | 20-Mar-2013 1:07 am

    why doesn't somebody stand up on a soap box and say it will no longer be tolerated and deal with it as it happens even if it means downing tools and walking out for a while.

    alternatively get in a team of psychologists to sort the bullies out!

    no staff should have to put up with bad treatment and no patient should be the ultimate recipient of care that arises in such a toxic environment.

    as a manager it is not enough just to side with the nurses against all the rest without doing anything about it for the sake of the patients.

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  • David Nicholson served as a "yes man" for Labour in implementing the box ticking culture which ultimately resulted in the disaster that was Stafford Hospital. He now aims to become the "yes man" once again for the Conservatives in their implementation of their privatisation policies and of course to keep his enormously inflated salary. This man should see himself shamed and even prosecuted, otherwise his appearance in front of the select committee will be nothing more than a job interview for him.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Mar-2013 7:22 am

    Why don't you and all your colleagues stand on a soapbox? It would make a larger impact than a single manager.

    As a nurse, it isn't enough to expect everyone else to fight for the patients.

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  • Let's hope all this puts an end to trumped up allegations made against 'unpopular' staff - ie those who are good at their job which always threatens those who are useless or dishonest.

    Bullying has to stop, it ruins lives and it should be against the law.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Mar-2013 7:22 am

    I take your point, and the others too. Neither profession can do it alone, we have to work together. Good idea about getting psychologists involved, some organisational behaviour could do with more informed analysis and action. It's all very well getting a diagnosis that the culture needs to change, we have to work together to do that.

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  • The Nobody | 20-Mar-2013 12:23 pm

    from Anonymous | 20-Mar-2013 7:22 am

    maybe it is an indication for more training in the recognition and understanding of bullying and unacceptable behaviour and how to cope with it.

    many of those showing this type of behaviour lack self-confidence and low in self-worth, are often loners who are unable to integrate into a team as they have never learnt how during their development. as children they may not have had adequate role models. they may be very envious of those who work well and easily gain recognition and attention from others and bullying, aggression, manipulation or other unwanted behaviour is their own poor attention seeking strategy as they have no other patterns of behaviour at their disposal and seem to lack insight on how to break out of their spiral.

    with recognition of their difficulties and the right expert and sensitive approach from their colleagues (and the support of a psychotherapist if necessary) they can be knocked off their perch to eventually become valued and respected members of the organisation like those whom they envy and victimise. the wrong approach is disaster for both parties and does not achieve anything and just increases the potential of conflict which obviously wears everybody down.

    research into this poorly understood phenomenon is ongoing but some insight into how these individuals operate can go some way to working with them and helping them to be more valued and productive instead of causing so much destruction.

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  • "David Nicholson served as a "yes man" for Labour in implementing the box ticking culture which ultimately resulted in the disaster that was Stafford Hospital. He now aims to become the "yes man" once again for the Conservatives in their implementation of their privatisation policies and of course to keep his enormously inflated salary. This man should see himself shamed and even prosecuted, otherwise his appearance in front of the select committee will be nothing more than a job interview for him."

    That is kind of his job! to be a "yes" man, and as painful as it sounds he is underpaid in comparison to his private sector counterparts.

    Without a criminal investigation we will never see the emails. For all we know he could have emailed the Lab government saying "if you implement these targets, you will kill people" just like he might have emailed hunt "if you re-organise and try to gain efficiencies, you will kill people". If that were true then who's to blame? Him or the government.

    Whistle blowing is important, but I think its important to look at the drive behind the whistle blow.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Mar-2013 12:48 pm
    Thank you so much for your insight. I'm going to have a meeting with Occy Health. I want to try and see if there's a pattern between people on long term sick due to stress and some, how can I put this? Serial bullies that we all know about in my trust but have not known how to handle. One of our clinical psychologists is going to join the group. Are you able to point me to some of the research you mention please? Many thanks.

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  • The Nobody | 21-Mar-2013 8:23 pm

    from Anonymous | 20-Mar-2013 12:48

    the following may give you some further insight into bullying and some more links and references to research




    http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/index.htm

    http://www.bullyonline.org/action/policy.htm - employers

    http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/nurses.htm - for nurses

    http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/manage.htm

    “The difference between bullying and management
    How to recognise a bullying manager in your organisation”

    very comprehensive table with long list of attributes which differ between bully and manager


    WHO
    http://www.who.int/occupational_health/healthy_workplace_framework.pdf

    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release37/en/


    Google Scholar and Google

    Using key phrase - bullying mobbing nursing may brings up some results which may be useful to you


    International Labour Organisation policy on bullying and mobbing


    International Council of Nurses – idem


    http://www.lifeafteradultbullying.com/620/index.html



    This article appeared in NT on the 18th and I have some reflections on it if I have time to share them with you later on

    Bullying in nursing and ways of dealing with it
    18 March, 2013

    http://www.nursingtimes.net/home/clinical-zones/leadership/bullying-in-nursing-and-ways-of-dealing-with-it/5056275.article

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  • I think bullying is also those who are particularly difficult to engage in conversation as they are in a perpetual rush like it is a habit or sign of self-importance and giving the impression their time is far more important than anybody else's. when one does engage them in what seems might be interesting they walk off as they are talking to you. this leaves me feeling at a disadvantage and sometimes quite tongue tied as you have to say whatever it is fast before they are off or to catch up with them.

    they are quite exhausting to deal with and I know two managers like this, one of whom was my ex-boss and I never used to catch the tail end of what she said which on occasion, if I thought it important enough, would chase along the long corridor leading off our ward after her feeling rather dumb. On other occasions, fortunately not too often, she was misunderstood and then reprimanded those who had not obeyed her instructions! Fortunately she always accepted apologies and explanations if you told her you had misunderstood.

    Luckily also neither of these two well-respected managers were bullies although I could see how this impatient behaviour and lack of respect to stop for a few seconds to listen to another could be used to victimise, manipulate and bully their subordinates.

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  • The Nobody/Anonymous - I can recommend the bullyonline links & contain links to research articles (mainly from Scandinavia).

    I would be interested to know if any of this is going to extend to the other UK countries, specifically Scotland with its different legal system as well as health being a devolved issue. Despite a government report finding a bullying culture of one of the largest NHS organisations the issues and victimisation persist - exactly as the article says "The attempt to discredit the whistleblower either by suggesting they are ill or incompetent is thought to be common".

    Personally, I wasn't ill, but similarly to the medic The Nobody knows, I am left with PTSD and no career, despite the most recent supervisor I worked with stating I was one of best nurses he'd met & it would be "criminal" if I was sacked or NMC-referred. The price of telling the truth.

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