Britain’s largest mental health trust has been forced into a humiliating climb-down after finally admitting the whistleblower who spoke out about bullying and harassment of staff had acted in good faith and in the public interest.
Dr Hayley Dare revealed a culture of bullying and harassment at West London Mental Health NHS Trust – which includes Broadmoor high-security hospital among its 32 sites – but was ridiculed by bosses.
The clinician, who had an unblemished 20-year career in the NHS, followed the trust’s whistleblowing policy and took her concerns to the trust’s then chief executive, Steve Shrubb. During one meeting with the HR director to discuss the issue, Mr Shrubb called Dr Dare “a very disturbed woman” when she was out of the room and compared her with his first wife. He apologised at her employment tribunal for his comments.
The trust spent £130,000 fighting Dr Dare’s claims despite knowing it had serious problems about the issues she raised. Official NHS staff surveys in 2012 and 2013 showed that out of 51 mental health trusts, West London had the worst record for staff experiencing violence both from patients and colleagues.
Thirty per cent of staff experienced harassment, bullying or abuse from other members of staff in 2013 and 26 per cent experienced discrimination. Almost one in 12 employees experienced physical violence from colleagues.
However, Dr Dare lost her employment tribunal against the trust last September on a legal technicality that no longer exists. The tribunal found against her because the judge said her disclosure had not been made “in good faith” – a provision whistleblowers no longer have to satisfy.
Dr Dare said she was then left feeling “paralysed” after the trust pursued her for almost £100,000 in costs and vowed to keep fighting. She appealed, and on Friday both sides agreed on a consent order at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London. The trust conceded Dr Dare had “made a disclosure in the public interest about the bullying and harassment of the staff of the [trust] and that this disclosure was made in good faith” when she went to Mr Shrubb with her concerns in March 2013. The trust also agreed to pay back £10,000 Dr Dare had paid to the trust in respect of the latter’s costs.
Dr Dare said: “I can’t quite express how overwhelmed I feel. This has always been about patient care and staff welfare, which is what whistleblowing should always be about. I never deviated from that so I feel exonerated at last.
“The trust has spent an obscene amount of taxpayers’ money fighting me. I never acted in bad faith and that was what the case was all about. This has always been about my integrity and the fact that I raised concerns about patient care as a clinician. If you bully staff, patient care will be affected.”
Dr Dare said she hoped the outcome would encourage other people in the NHS to speak out. She said: “My greatest sadness is that I lost my clinical role within the NHS, but I don’t regret what I did and the decision means more than I can probably ever express”
The trust, which employs 3,160 staff serving about 700,000 people, declined to apologise to Dr Dare and said it had “a number of ways in which staff can raise concerns safely”.
A spokesperson said: “The trust has not conceded the appeal by Dr Dare and no compensation has been paid to her. Both parties to the appeal will bear their own costs in the case. The trust accepts that Dr Dare raised concerns in good faith about bullying and harassment in West London Forensic Services and the trust took immediate action to investigate the concerns she raised.
“We do not now and have never accepted that Dr Dare made any other protected disclosures about the nature of services and patient care in the trust.”
The Independent on Sunday has revealed a catalogue of failings at the trust over the past year as a number of senior staff have either quit the organisation or retired early.
Former trust chairman Nigel McCorkell had been reappointed in January 2013 but stepped down 18 months later, and Mr Shrubb announced his retirement to staff earlier this year – just days after a CQC inspection revealed multiple failings.
The trust “requires improvement” in whether it is “safe”, “effective” and “well led” in three out of five main areas. Of the trust’s specific services, the Broadmoor and forensic services were rated “inadequate”. A fraud investigation was also launched after one of the trust’s departments went millions over budget.
Trust chairman Tom Hayhoe promised a new approach of “openness and candour” following his arrival in April, yet The IoS is still locked in a battle with West London to obtain a copy of the fraud report concerning the wasted millions.
The trust wants to keep the report secret, claiming that revealing the details of what happened would prejudice its ability to carry out similar investigations in the future.
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