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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Nursing union hits out at efforts to find north Cumbria hospitals whistleblower

A nursing union has hit out at attempts by north Cumbrian hospital bosses to hunt down the whistleblower who leaked a top secret financial report.

The document – which revealed former chief executive Carole Heatly was still on the hospitals’ payroll despite her leaving in June – was leaked to the News & Star.

The story prompted interim chief executive Neil Goodwin to send a memo to staff, stating that North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust was investigating the leak and the source of the information.

Estephanie Dunn, operations manager at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), questioned the motives of bosses for warning staff that they are hunting for the whistleblower.

She said: “The trust’s latest memo is deliberately designed to instil fear into the workforce, in a desperate attempt to intimidate staff not to blow the whistle on the ongoing management incompetence, for which the current chief executive must take responsibility.”

It follows recent claims by a group of health unions that hospital staff “have been bullied or intimidated into not reporting incidents affecting patient care quality and safety”.

However, bosses at Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary and Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital claim the emailed memo – sent out to all staff – has been taken out of context. They say the comments were designed to reassure staff following the article in the paper.

The memo said: “We are disappointed that a confidential report that was restricted to the trust and the bidders involved in the acquisition process has received such speculative treatment in the press which is unhelpful to our staff and to patients using our services.

“We are investigating the leak and the source of the information.”

But a spokeswoman stressed the investigation does not involve trust staff. She added: “It is ridiculous to suggest that this email in any way was designed to stop staff from reporting any concerns they may have.

“Our staff are actively encouraged to report any incidents involving their patients or a concern over any aspect of service delivery.

“To improve this, we introduced a new online reporting tool 12 months ago which has significantly improved our system of reporting incidents.

“The trust also has a whistle-blowing policy – Reporting Serious Concerns at Work.”

The secret report, compiled by global audit firm KPMG as part of the ongoing takeover of the north Cumbrian hospitals, revealed that taxpayers were still paying former chief executive Carole Heatly as part of a severance package, worth about £19,000 a month.

The financial report also showed that the trust would need a bailout of up to £45m from the Strategic Health Authority (SHA) next year unless the funding gap is addressed by a planned takeover.

The deal, which will see Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust take over the running of the debt-stricken hospitals, was agreed in principle following talks last week.

Health chiefs agreed in principle to meet the proposed level of transitional funding the new trust will need while it addresses long-standing financial problems. Northumbria will now carry out due diligence – which involves looking at trust finances in greater detail – which is expected to take about two months.

The takeover must then get approval.

It is expected the current trust will be dissolved and the new organisation formed by the end of the year.

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