The Winterbourne View whistleblower was described as a potential “spanner in the works” by one of the care home’s regional managers, case notes from an employment tribunal have revealed.
In spite of this, Liz White won a claim for unfair dismissal in January against the firm that ran Winterbourne View, Nursing Times has learnt.
Castlebeck Ltd claimed it dismissed Ms White fairly in April 2012 because it had “lost trust and confidence” in her, after two of the facilities she had responsibility for were forced to close due to poor care. But tribunal judgement ruled that management had failed to follow proper procedure.
The BBC’s Panorama programme exposed the abuse of patients at Winterbourne View hospital for people with learning disabilities and autism in May 2011. It prompted the Care Quality Commission to inspect all of Castlebeck’s facilities. Winterbourne View, near Bristol, and two of its other homes – one of which was Arden Vale near Coventry – were subseqently closed.
Ms White joined the company as a staff nurse in 1988 and was the CQC registered manager for both Winterbourne View and Arden Vale at various points between 2007 and 2010. She also had responsibility for oversight of the homes in a regional role and visited Winterbourne View regularly, though she ceased to be its active manager from January 2010.
The CQC has since refused to register her as a manager. However, there is no suggestion that Ms White was directly involved in abuse or poor care of patients at either of the facilities.
The scandal at Winterbourne View was exposed after Terry Bryan, a nurse who had recently begun working at the home, raised concerns about the violent treatment of patients.
The tribunal heard she was forwarded an email from Mr Bryan setting out his concerns. Ms White forwarded it on to her line manager with a covering note, saying: “I have had reservations about [Mr Bryan] since he started… We need to sort this out, as I fear he may be a spanner in the works and go to the CQC if he doesn’t get his own way.”
Ms White subsequently failed to arrange a prompt meeting with Mr Bryan and after trying and failing to get a response from the CQC, Mr Bryan went to the BBC.
But the tribunal agreed with arguments made by her barrister, Antoine Tinnion, that Ms White had suffered “serious prejudice” due to the way the investigation into her conduct was handled by Castlebeck.
The company had “categorically declined” to supply Ms White with a “considerable amount” of documentary evidence supporting its decision to dismiss her, the tribunal heard. It ruled she was entitled to see the evidence and the company had given “no acceptable reason” for not disclosing it.