16 APR 2016
Four NHS staff who drew attention to poor patient care and safety failures in the health service, including two cases that led to the Francis inquiry
Dr Raj Mattu was sacked after warning that patients were dying because of cost-cutting practices at a Coventry hospital. Photograph: Richard Saker/Guardian
The NHS has come under growing criticism in recent years over its treatment of whistleblowers – staff who raise concerns about poor care or inadequate patient safety.
Here we highlight four cases, including two that led directly to Sir Robert Francis QC undertaking his inquiry, published on Wednesday, into the health service’s handling of such cases.
Dr Raj Mattu
In April 2001 Dr Raj Mattu and five colleagues sounded the alarm about what they said was the dangerous “five in four” practice at Walsgrave hospital in Coventry of putting a fifth bed in a bay of a cardiac ward only designed to take four. Their concerns – that the practice would leave vital services such as oxygen, suction and mains electricity harder to reach in the event of an emergency – seemed to be borne out when a patient suffered a heart attack and died after staff could not reach that equipment in time. But that produced no changes.
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Those concerns led to a chain of events which ended with the consultant cardiologist’s sacking by University hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS trust in 2010. But an employment tribunal in April ruled that Mattu had been unfairly dismissed. His former NHS trust had spent £6m pursuing about 200 allegations against him – which later proved to be false – including using private detectives to investigate him. His lawyer, Stephen Moore, said Mattu had been “vilified, bullied and harassed out of a job he loved”.
He was one of the six health professionals turned whistleblowers whose terrible experiences after speaking out prompted Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, to ask Francis to look into how to create a more open culture within the NHS.
Dr David Drew
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Dr David Drew, a former consultant paediatrician at Walsall Manor hospital. Photograph: Adam Gerrard
Dr David Drew
A former clinical director of Walsall Manor hospital, Dr David Drew was dismissed in December 2010 after voicing concerns about what he said was a huge cost-cutting exercise. The consultant paediatrician, a Christian, fell foul of his trust after including a biblical reference in an email to several fellow doctors as part of an attempt to lift their spirits.
He was ultimately sacked for “gross misconduct and insubordination” after he refused to accept the findings of a review panel that investigated his behaviour. The email was a smokescreen to justify getting rid of him, Drew said.
But in 2013 an employment tribunal rejected his appeal against his dismissal and his claim that he was the victim of religious discrimination.
“My case is the exact opposite of the transparency that’s being called for in the NHS today. We have to give doctors and nurses freedom to safely report when they see things going wrong and putting patients at risk,” Drew has said.
Writing in the Guardian last week, Drew – another of the six whistleblowers whose fate led to the Francis inquiry – said: “Variable, substandard and sometimes abysmal care is still all too common. In hospitals where frontline staff attempt to address this they are often met with a wall of silence and hostility by management. This was our own experience.”
Dr Narinder Kapur
Dr Narinder Kapur suffered financial problems and had to sell his house after losing his job. Photograph: Yanice Idir/ Yanice Idir/Demotix/Corbis
Dr Narinder Kapur
Dr Narinder Kapur was sacked as head of neuropsychology at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge in 2010 after an irreconcilable breakdown in relationships. He had raised concerns about staff shortages and unqualified staff working without proper supervision. An employment tribunal ruled in 2012 that Kapur had been unfairly dismissed, but not because he was a whistleblower, although the tribunal recognised him as such. It ruled that the Cambridge University hospitals NHS foundation trust had “not conducted itself as a reasonable employer” because it did not explore alternatives to dismissing him. After losing his job he suffered serious financial problems and had to sell his house. The tribunal ruled that accusations of fraud against Kapul were unfounded and that he was a man “of the highest integrity”.
Dr Sharmila Chowdury
Radiographer Dr Sharmila Chowdury was suspended by Ealing hospital trust in west London after raising concerns in 2007 that colleagues were moonlighting at a nearby private hospital, a practice that was costing the NHS trust an estimated £250,000.
Despite winning her case at an interim relief tribunal in 2010, the trust refused to take her back. Chowdhury, was who diagnosed with cancer in 2013, has not worked in the NHS since then, despite having worked in the service for 27 years before her suspension. She has spent more than £130,000 in legal fees pursuing her case.
“Despite winning a hearing in which I was proven to be a whistleblower, I’ve no job and no money,” she said in an interview last year.
• This article was amended on 24 February 2015 to clarify that an employment tribunal ruled that Dr Narinder Kapur had not been dismissed from Addenbrooke’s hospital because he was a whistleblower. A misspelling of Dr Kapur’s name has also been corrected.