I like David Drew’s idea of presenting a whistleblower with an award where concerns have been properly upheld. But I am not sure I agree with him that the numbers of vexatious or malicious allegations are rare.
In my experience, they are becoming far too prevalent but even if we don’t know the numbers the ruination of just one consultant career is one too many. Let me give one true example (trust me, I am not a doctor) where the HCSA is actively involved. This is not unique and neither is it an exaggerated description. It goes like this…
In late 2011 two consultants were reported by a ‘whistleblower’ to have engaged in private practice in NHS time. Both were immediately excluded (suspended) pending referral to the NHS Counter Fraud Squad. No cursory or initial investigation was undertaken by the trust; the allegation of fraud was considered far too serious for that – immediate exclusion was implemented. Contact with colleagues was forbidden for fear of interfering with ‘witnesses’.
Three months later, yes three months, the NHS Counter Fraud Squad found no reason to pursue criminal proceedings and the two consultants allowed to return to work.
The reputation of both has been seriously damaged, their health has suffered as a result of stress; the scars of such an ordeal will take a long time to heal. Tell them that exclusion was a ‘neutral’ act – and they will say that is not how it felt to them. They are angry and rightly so.
And the ‘whistleblower’? Anonymous, unaccountable and probably sleeping easy at night – unlike the innocent victims of such malicious behaviour. It will take more than a telephone hotline; the culture needs to change. Receptive to legitimate concerns, certainly. But equally it must be unforgiving of the vexatious complainant. That is not whistleblowing – but can the NHS recognise the difference? Not in my first-hand and very real experience.
Malicious whistleblowing is destroying consultant careers – and so is the lack of any realistic accountability of the perpetrators.