The subject of whistleblowers has featured frequently on this blog, mainly in relation to Carmarthenshire County Council, but our county council is by no means unique in its victimisation of people who report abuses. Here is a selection of recent headlines:
Prison whistleblowers being threatened with dismissal (Guardian)
NHS Trust 'blackened' whistleblower doctor's name (BBC)
Met Police whistleblower PC James Patrick resigns (BBC)
Whistleblower treatment is often shocking, say MPs (BBC)
Kincora Scandal: Whistleblower claims MI5 [used] blackmail (Belfast Telegraph)
Fire service whistleblower - disciplinary hearing date (South Wales Evening Post)
Six headlines picked at random, and all but one reporting on the ordeals of people who reported abuses in the organisations they worked for. There are hundreds more where those came from.
Without exception every one of the public bodies and institutions involved proudly advertises a whistleblower policy on their websites, and encourages anyone who works for them to report abuses.
So common is the problem of victimisation of whistleblowers by employers that there are any number of learned sociological and legal treatises on the subject. To outsiders, however, the question of why councils, NHS Trusts and other bodies should respond to what are often simple reports of abuse by punishing the people reporting the abuse remains inexplicable.
It is obvious that junior staff responsible for abusing a patient will react to a complaint with fear, anger and hostility. It is sometimes understandable why their immediate line managers will be defensive or hostile - after all the abuse occurred on their watch, and they bear at least indirect responsibility. But friends and work colleagues protecting each other's backs does not explain why the whole food chain in an organisation should end up turning on whistleblowers.
To understand why people trying to protect the vulnerable or report abuses should become victims, you need to see the behaviour in the context of corporate culture.
Anyone who has worked for an organisation in the public or private sector will know that corporate culture is invariably determined at the top, no matter how large the organisation. If the big boss goes, you know that the culture of the organisation you work for will change for better or worse.
In the case of commercial operations, the fear will be that news of e.g. abuse of elderly or vulnerable patients in a care home could lead to loss of contracts and business. Far better hush things up and paint whistleblowers as liars and trouble makers.
In the case of public sector bodies the fear driving the behaviour of those at the top is negative publicity. PR is king, and criticism and bad headlines are to be avoided at all costs. And of course, this is especially true of PR-obsessed Carmarthenshire County Council and its chief executive for whom controlling the news and stifling dissent have been at the very heart of the James/Gravell regime since Day One.
Sir Robert Francis, the barrister who conducted the public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal, will report soon on the NHS Freedom To Speak Up Review, and campaigners for the rights of whistleblowers are asking everyone who cares about tackling abuse in the NHS, social care, the police, local government and other organisations to sign this petition calling on him to make two recommendations:
1. A new piece of legislation known as Edna’s Law to replace the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) which
has failed to protect the public, the victims or the whistleblowers.
2. A public inquiry into whistleblowing because the “shoot the
messenger and cover up” culture extends beyond the NHS into all sectors,
eg social care, education, transport, police, banking.
This blog has outlined the main proposals for Edna's Law before, but it is worth explaining how it came to be given this name.
Edna was a defenceless elderly lady who died after terrible abuse and
neglect in a BUPA care home even though the “BUPA Seven” had notified
management. The campaign is dedicated to Edna’s memory and to all
those who have suffered or died because a whistleblower was ignored or
too afraid to speak out.
The BUPA Seven were forced out of their jobs and became the first
case to be tried under PIDA, but found it was ineffective because those
responsible for the abuse and neglect, and those who had been notified,
were not held to account.
This was despite the regulator upholding all the allegations, so it
was no surprise when four years later, information was made public that
vulnerable people had continued to suffer. Edna’s Law would stop this
Edna’s Law is based on the evidence from 1500 whistleblowers, given to Compassion In Care an independent charity founded by Eileen Chubb, one of the BUPA Seven.
On its website the campaign group Compassion in Care provides harrowing accounts of other cases under the title Breaking The Silence Parts. The reality for whistleblowers includes harassment, physical assault,
suspension, false counter-allegations, dismissal, loss of income,
unemployment, ill-health, high legal fees, months or years of stress and
loss of homes. Relatives of whistleblowers, even young children, have
been targeted for indirect reprisals. But often no action is taken on
the wrongdoing or risks, which often continue, and are covered up by
The employment tribunals, where whistleblowing cases are heard, have no jurisdiction to make sure problems are put right.
Would YOU report wrongdoing if you knew what the consequences might
be for you and your family? And if you knew that the law would not
With an election now just seven months away, there is no likelihood that the Government will be legislating any time soon, but raising the matter with people who are asking for your vote is one way of ensuring that the message gets home.
And in Wales the Welsh Government and Assembly now have the power to legislate on matters which have been devolved, including health, social services and local government. A strong Welsh Edna's Law might be easier to bring about than one which depends on Westminster.
Please take a few seconds to sign the petition and badger your elected representatives. This is something which affects all of us.