Published on 26 Oct 2013

How blowing the whistle cost two men their NHS careers

In the 1990s, a consultant anaesthetist at Bristol Royal Infirmary blew the whistle on the number of children dying from heart surgery. It was one of the biggest scandals to the hit the National Health Service.

It forced a public inquiry and led to two doctors being struck off the medical register and one being
suspended.

As for Dr Steve Bolsin, that whistleblowing anaesthetist, he never worked in the UK again. Instead he and his family moved to Australia where he has made a successful career for himself at Geelong Hospital in Victoria.

But he is currently back in the country to receive an award from the Royal College of Anaesthetists.

Finally, perhaps, a recognition from the establishment of the central role he played all those years ago in highlighting the number of children and babies dying in the operating theatre at Bristol.

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We spoke to him before the award ceremony and he told Channel 4 News that he would do it all again if he had to. “What happened in Bristol had to end. Someone had to step in,” he said.

But what has changed since then? The experiences of Mid Staffordshire would suggest not a lot. Whistleblowers are still finding it hard to have their voices heard.

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And this is backed up by the chairman of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), who this week told the health select committee that there was a ‘chilling’ culture in NHS hospitals that discourages potential whistleblowers from breaking ranks.

David Prior said he had spoken to a couple of surgeons whose careers have been severely limited because they expressed concerns about what was going on at their hospitals.

But it is not simply that careers are severely limited.

Careers are destroyed, marriages broken up, families split apart. Millions and millions of pounds are lost to the NHS because a doctor is no longer able to work. Their expensive training is lost, trusts spend unlimited funds on legal cases and payouts are made.

This is the point that Edwin Jesudason makes. His case his chillingly similar to that of Steve Bolsin’s. All that sets them apart is nearly two decades.

Mr Jesudason is a highly qualified award-winning paediatric surgeon and an associate professor in paediatric surgery. He specialises in surgery for birth defects and children’s tumours and has been widely-acclaimed for his research.

But he made the mistake of blowing the whistle and now he is unable to find work in this country and is, instead, carrying out research in Australia.

Mr Jesudason was a consultant in the paediatric surgery department at Alder Hey Children’s hospital in Liverpool when in 2009 he became concerned about patient safety and what he describes as a culture of fear and bullying.

He and a colleague called for a review of some of the fatalities following surgery. He says that nothing was done.

That colleague’s reputation was undermined, he was suspended and he is no longer working at Alder Hey.

Mr Jesudason went on sabbatical to America in 2010. When he returned briefly the following year he again complained that his concerns had not been investigated.

Alder Hey, at this point, called in the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS). They found that while the paediatric surgical department was no longer first class, it was providing a safe surgical service.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request by Private Eye, it has now become apparent that the RCS was not in possession of all the facts.

Because in 2010, an internal report was commissioned to look at the psychological stress staff were under. It makes disturbing reading.

Produced by Alan Phillips, head of psychosocial services at the Alder Centre, it states that “many of the staff were in a high state of distress”, “concern for patient safety was a powerful theme” and “several incidences were recounted where staff had fainted or had been otherwise incapacitated whilst in theatres”.

“many of the staff were in a high state of distress” – an internal report at the Alder hopital

This was attributed to staff or colleagues being “required to attend operations when they are physically and mentally unable to perform their duties confidently or competently”.

Two paragraphs are headed self-harm and suicide and harm to others. Those paragraphs warns “the distress exhibited in the confidential sessions was accompanied by various degrees of anger and variations on the theme of ‘if something isn’t done soon someone will snap and attack someone’.”

All of this appears to substantiate what Mr Jesudason was saying all along. But the RCS was not given the report and the CQC said they had not seen it before or during an inspection of the hospital.

Mr Jesudason was back in America, but it had become apparent to him that he would not be welcomed back at the hospital, so in July 2012 he took the case to the high court, winning an injunction to stop him from being dismissed.

However, an attempt to have that injunction made permanent collapsed, and he was left to pay Alder Hey’s costs of £100,000.

Alder Hey has acknowledged that Mr Jesudason made protected disclosures, which is another way of saying he was a genuine whistleblower.

But in a statement Alder Hey said that as a result of Mr Jesudason’s concerns they had invited the RCS to investigate the concerns raised and that the RCS “concluded the department was safe”.

They said a subsequent review by the CQC in 2012 also “found that patients have safe and appropriate care, treatment and support”.

They also said that the trust believes that a culture of openness and honesty is vital for the maintenance of high standards.

That much is indisputable. But that is not always what happens in the NHS.

Next month, Mr Jesudason, who is now working in Australia, will have a meeting with the chairman of the CQC, and evidence he has gathered on the amount of money spent by the trust on his and his colleague’s case has now been sent to the comptroller and auditor general.

Of course, in the meantime, he will return to Melbourne and he will not be working in the NHS.

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16 reader comments

  1. Alan D says:

    Whistleblowers will never be welcome at the NHS as it’s much simpler to harass and bully them out of their jobs and deny any malpractice exists. Until there is true accountability of management’s actions and genuine protection for doctors and staff, nothing will change.

  2. Sila Tarina says:

    Just to say how shocking it really is that if doctors cannot raise issues – what can patients do? My experience as a patient who made a complaint has been really terrible and I have had some really nightmarish experiences as an in-patient ever since. It took the families some 10 years to raise concerns in Mid Staffs. No-one wants to complain about the NHS and it is because of cuts in health spending that most of these awful situations do occur.

    However, the NHS seems to have turned into some kind of uncontrollable monster rather like something out of a Franz Kafka novel where individuals are swallowed up by a bureaucracy. The NHS are just not accountable and I think people who work there seem to regard themselves as invulnerable to any criticism at all. As an NHS baby, now 60 years on I find it a tragic situation.

  3. Mano JESUDASON says:

    I am sorry that Mr.Edwin JESUDASON is not serving the NHS in Uk.
    We need such talented doctors who truly care for the patients and serve us in miraculous ways with their knowledge and skill. Is there going to be any justice in this matter.

  4. Gary Russell says:

    Here’s another angle. There are NHS staff that have noticed people from foreign countries abusing the system, but are afraid to speak out for fear of being accused of being racist. Even though in some cases the “patients” are quite open about their fraudulent activities.

  5. gvnmcknz says:

    Same in private healthcare!
    My life is ruined after whistle-blowing.
    I won at Employment Tribunal (in top 2%), and on my own after desertion of Royal College of Nursing.
    I have given up with Nursing and Midwifery Council, (who cut my document bundle from 750 pages to 60 pages!).

    Frankly, whistle-blower protection is a lie!

  6. Pauline Lowrie says:

    It is a tragedy that outstanding doctors like these who have the integrity to raise their concerns for patient safety are treated so abominably. Instead, they should be recognised and used to advise on improving the systems in the NHS that lead to this culture of fear with its repercussions for patients and the staff working in it. How truly sad that these men have to seek careers outside the UK.

  7. Philip Edwards says:

    Victoria,

    A disturbing tale.

    Suggestion: trace the root of the introduction of so-called “confidentiality clauses” that block NHS staff telling the truth. Who introduced this evil muck and why?

    My bet is you will find they were brought in by neocon placemen who were employed to slice up the NHS and ready it for ambulance-chasing privatisation. Check out the CEOs, lawyers, managers and trust board members. See which of the neocon “think tanks” (a euphemism for propaganda units) have manufactured the methods for this.

    What do they have to hide if something is harming the NHS and therefore its patients – us?

    Cui bono?

  8. nallini theva says:

    I do hope that the CQC, Royal College of Surgeons and the BMA will support the surgeons who speak the truth and seek justice for them. It is really sad that a talented surgeon speaking out for the safety and care of patients – especially children is unable to work in the NHS.
    It has taken all these years for the Royal College to recognize the Bristol Surgeon – I hope justice for Mr. Jesudason will not take this long

  9. Capt (retd) A A Campbell says:

    It is a disgrace that a talented surgeon like Mr Jesudason, after all he has put into the NHS, is no longer able to practice in this country.
    He has been punished for standing up for his beliefs in his profession and passionately wanting the best for his patients.
    The biggest losers are the Alder Hay hospital and us, the British public.
    Mr Jesudason should be reinstated as soon as possible.

  10. Sila Tarina says:

    I was involved in giving evidence to the Clwyd Report which came out yesterday. Despite all the work and heartache that has gone into that report – Anne Clwyd MP’s husband died in Cardiff University Hospital after 24 hours on a trolley, ignored in a corridor – what is going to change?

    I was told a by a very senior consultant at a London hospital that although he was sympathetic to my complaint there was nothing he could do. Well why not? Because he is worried about upsetting the medical establishment who seem to be some kind of tyrannical oligharghy, controlling the NHS – some kind of secret elite bunch of people, many have who have titles who are top managers or clinical directors. These people are not accountable but ruin peoples lives, can end careers, send good doctors to Australia, hound nurses out of their jobs, and ensure that patients who make complaints are victimised – Julia Bailey who raised the Mid Staff campaign has been forced to move to another county after all her campaigning and exposure of wrong-doing which even the government now accepts . Why?

    I have been treated contemptuously since I made my complaint by nurses and doctors. I have little choice but to continue going there and it has now become a nightmarish, and, even, dangerous experience for me.

    Why is this being allowed to happen to our NHS. It is no longer the best in the world yet this myth persists “we are lucky to have it”. Healthcare systems throughout Europe are far superior and properly funded through the government – not private as in the USA where people just die from minor ailments because they cannot afford the high insurance costs. So what is going on here in the UK???

    I now understand that the NHS cannot now get top class consultants to work for it because of the recent history of corruption, scandals and criticism. All of course the direct result of the UK government refusing to adequately fund the NHS and leaving it in the hands of an incompetent management. It has created a truly totalitarian bureaucracy of Soviet style proportions where complaints and people seem to disappear.

  11. Pamela Goodchild says:

    The way these two doctors have been treated is quite distressing. The fact that the professional bodies seem intent on suppressing issues raised by their members is a cause of particular concern.

    The internal report, produced by Alan Phillips, would seem to corroborate some of the concerns raised by Mr Jesudason.

    It is about time protection for whistleblowers became a reality.

  12. Zara says:

    I think it’s good that there are whistleblowing policies in place to protect service users by speaking up against abuse or anything which is a hazard/harmful to the individual. However when professionals such as Dr Jesudason speak up for practice which is being carried out wrongly they are penalised and struck off the medical register it’s absolutely disgusting!!!

    Doctors who were obviously deeply concerned about the practices of their colleagues spoke up which highlighted many of the problems in the NHS, such as ignoring the views of other staff, bullying from people who think they have higher authority making staff feel under pressure. In this case it was the babies having correct care given to them after surgery which is vital to their wellbeing. The care of the people should be the main priority of the NHS.

    Whistle blowing is designed to protect the individual and the worker who makes a disclosure however it is failing to do any of these from cases such as this one. I feel personally that fair enough it is written down and is a policy, but how many people follow it, or should I say how many people are afraid to whistle blow, without the fear of losing their job and a mark being placed on their dignity and made to feel like they did wrong when they are doing right. It shocks me how two individuals who had every right to protect individuals from harm were bullied and told to leave as a result of them standing up for wrong actions.

    The NHS is under pressure due to cuts for services meaning less staff, more people needing treatment however it does not clarify the way they went about regarding a serious complaint, which was made twice and nothing was done.

    the royal college of surgeons said the department was safe, but why let things go when there is clearly many problems and no one is prepared to admit them.

  13. Zara says:

    I think it’s good that there are whistle blowing policies in place to protect the individual and whistle-blower. However when professionals such as Dr Jesudason speak up for incorrect practice being carried out they are penalised and struck off the medical register it’s absolutely disgusting!!!

    Doctors who were obviously deeply concerned about the practices of their colleagues spoke up highlighting many of the problems in NHS, In this case it was the babies being cared for properly during and after surgery. The care of the people should be the main priority of the NHS.

    I feel personally that many people are afraid to whistle blow, due to the fear of losing their job, a mark being placed on their dignity and made to feel like they did wrong.

    The NHS is under pressure due to cuts for services meaning less staff, however it does not clarify the way they treated a serious complaint, which was made twice and nothing was done.
    Finally it angers me that everyone seemed to be together on this one even the royal college of surgeons said the department was safe, but why let things go when there is clearly many problems which need to be addressed.

  14. mandy higham says:

    Edwin Jesudason was my grandsons surgeon at Alder Hey from birth and for 4yrs until going to America in 2010. Im sure many will agree that a nicer more compassionate man would be hard to find. What a waste of brilliant talent, we ( my family ) still miss him terribly. There is something very wrong that he is not able to work in our NHS. He is a huge loss to this country.

  15. Carol says:

    I caught Lyme Disease in 2005: I was treated with antibiotics until I complained
    about another GP using biofeedback and NLP. It was band by the FDA and
    is against human exposure to electromagnetic fields. It can be picked up on a scaner. As the government have stopped the use of TV detection vans and Radiocommunications Ageancy is closed. I contacted Radio hams they know.
    It’s against the law. The doctor told his colleagues I was harrassing him.
    While he removed a very conspicuous ariel from th roof of the garage.
    I had reported another doctor to the again using simular biofeedback equipment to the Healthcare Commission in 1999.
    After many months a GP and Arwell Barrett from the NRPB dicided his equipment was harmless.
    My case worker said she wished I could explain how the equipment worked I thought I did? By coming into the office.
    But it was not the policy for the Health care commission to allow this they are the experts and they employed an expert who I can question from the NRBP.
    I went on to find another doctor using simular devices.
    He lost my medical notes between 2006 and 2009.
    I was then told I no longer had Lyme Disease.
    I came into Kettering General Hospital with a high temperature and blood pressure. I was then taken off my antibiotics and put in a psychatric hospital.
    A consultant recently told me to report these people to the press another doctor also in out of hours.
    But I can’t find anyone brave enough cause they weren’t able to do it themselves.
    Is there any one out there?

  16. Carol says:

    It’s hard to get the press intrested: when they are only bothered about celebrity.
    3000 known cases of Lyme Disease are treated as if they are cold.
    A & E does not know how to deal with a neurotoxin and bites from Tick.
    Various sites only show the adult Tick.
    The nymphs are hardly see but can still give you this nasty infection.
    The NHS believe it takes 24 hours for you to be infected? Does not a bee sting
    or a wasp sting. Somehow tick don’t carry infections? Because the NHS tests
    is not broad spectrum.
    A consultant said for me to contact the press. The hospital manager refused to give me IV antibiotics. As he said it was a phase that the Tick had paralysed my legs and given me neuropathy.
    A private consultant asked if I could have intravious antibiotics it was refused.
    There are many of us at Breakspear Hospital Hemel Hempstead can’t get treated by the NHS even if it’s an infection.
    Staff seem to know little about
    Lyme disease. It leads to ME and MS.
    Yet you end up in the cliches if psychiatrists trying to tell you your blood test is not approved of by them.
    If anyone can help we all would be grateful?
    Lyme disease action has had its 13 meeting at Surrey university.
    Science meets the suffera’s but the NHS
    Don’t know a thing.
    Gulf war syndrome and the military application of Lyme all things that appear to be missed and go unnoticed.
    By the press and media at large.

    If you have a dog or a cat you are likely have Tick even with spot on.
    They live indoors quite well.

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