NHS bosses who cost taxpayers millions with pursuit of whistleblowers are ‘protected’

Tim Powell, Kathryn Magson, Jacqueline Totterdell and Simon Holmes have all been involved in cases against whistleblowers
Tim Powell, Kathryn Magson, Jacqueline Totterdell and Simon Holmes have all been involved in cases against whistleblowers

NHS managers accused of persecuting whistleblowers and ignoring warnings about patient safety are “protected” within the health service, doctors have said.

Some have been “recycled” to other jobs in the health service, while others have been moved sideways despite the doctors they are alleged to have victimised being left unemployed.

Many have been criticised by judges for their actions in high-profile whistleblowing cases.

In one instance, a medical director who started disciplinary proceedings against a whistleblower was hired by a neighbouring trust as the “non-executive director for speaking up”.

The list of managers who appear to have been shielded includes a former chief executive whose “vindictiveness” towards one whistleblower cost the health department more than £4 million in compensation and legal costs.

Among the managers who have gone on to other NHS jobs after being criticised for their handling of whistleblowing cases is Simon Holmes, who launched an investigation into Dr Jasna Macanovic, a consultant nephrologist, in May 2017.

She had raised concerns about a procedure called buttonholing being used on dialysis patients at Portsmouth University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The decision to instigate a disciplinary investigation into Dr Macanovic was later found by a judge to be a detrimental act under whistleblowing legislation. Dr Macanovic was awarded £219,000 in compensation when she won at tribunal. The NHS’s legal costs came to £460,000.

Mr Holmes has now retired from his full-time job but has taken up a position at Hampshire Hospitals where he is responsible for ensuring the trust maintains a “positive and effective speaking up culture”. The post comes with a stipend of up to £20,000 per year paid on top of his NHS pension.

Mr Holmes’ former employer, Portsmouth University Hospitals, told The Telegraph he had their “full support” and that they were confident in his ability to practise, and his credibility and probity.

Whistleblowers critical of the recruitment procedures for NHS executives have also pointed out that Paula Vennells, the now-disgraced former Post Office chief executive, is among those appointed to prestigious posts.

In 2019, Ms Vennells began a short-lived stint as board chairman at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust having just apologised and stepped down after a High Court ruling that the Post Office had wrongly prosecuted sub-postmasters.

‘No one asked any questions’

Martyn Pitman, an obstetrician and whistleblower, said: “It is as if they are being protected and no one in the NHS asked any questions. If that could happen at one of the most respected teaching hospital trusts in London, just imagine the calibre of candidates elsewhere.”

Mr Pitman, who lost an employment tribunal case against Hampshire Hospitals, where Mr Holmes now works, criticised the recycling of NHS managers.

He told The Telegraph: “NHS executives are recycled within the system. Time and time again in senior managerial appointments we see the re-appointment merry-go-round, where underperforming or disgraced senior managers are reappointed in neighbouring Trusts.”

He added: “If it was a senior clinician who made the mistakes equivalent to those made by many senior managers they just wouldn’t get another job.”

Mr Holmes is not the only executive involved in Dr Macanovic’s wrongful dismissal now working at Hampshire Hospitals.

Tim Powell, the director responsible for HR policy when Portsmouth University Hospitals wrongly fired Dr Macanovic, is now the chief people officer at the neighbouring trust.

It was only at tribunal that the whistleblower learnt that Mr Powell had decided against an investigation that would have looked into those who had been targeting her after she raised patient safety concerns.

The trust pointed out that Mr Powell had worked at the London Fire Brigade after leaving Portsmouth and went through an “extensive” recruitment process to be hired by Hampshire Hospitals in Sept 2023. The trust added that Mr Holmes came with many years of experience as a senior medical consultant and that both individuals had passed “fit and proper persons” tests prior to appointment.

A spokesman said that their victory against Mr Pitman at the employment tribunal confirmed what the Trust has consistently said: “Hampshire Hospitals has never – and would never – treat anyone negatively for raising safety concerns.”

NHS trusts do not appear to be put off hiring executives who have mishandled whistleblowers, even when the outcomes have cost the taxpayer millions of pounds.

Kathryn Magson’s treatment of Dr Rosalind Ranson was condemned by an employment tribunal judge in 2022 as “vindictive” and “self-serving”, and led Dr Ranson to be awarded almost £3.2 million in damages.

Ms Magson targeted Dr Ranson, then medical director on the Isle of Man, after the doctor raised patient safety concerns and challenged government policy.

Despite winning an employment tribunal, Dr Ranson has been unable to secure further work in the NHS. In contrast, Ms Magson is currently employed by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLAM) on a hospital building project.

At the tribunal, the judge increased the damages owed to Dr Ranson partly owing to the stress caused by Ms Magson’s treatment, which made her unwell.

SLAM, a mental health trust, described Ms Magson’s appointment as “temporary” and said that they “value the highest standards of professionalism, integrity, and ethical behaviour from all our employees, regardless of their roles or backgrounds”.

“Our commitment to these values is unwavering, and we hold all members of our organisation accountable for adhering to them,” they said.

In some instances, executives have managed to retain their positions seemingly unscathed, despite being responsible for costly and wrongful attacks on whistleblowing doctors.

Jacqueline Totterdell stayed on in post in her £180,000-a-year role as group chief executive at Epsom & St Helier University Hospitals & St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust despite the wrongful suspension of Prof Marjan Jahangiri, an eminent cardiac surgeon and whistleblower, in 2018.

When Prof Jahangiri challenged this exclusion in High Court, Mr Justice Nicklin criticised the decision-making behind the suspension outlined in Ms Totterdell’s witness statement as “wholly inadequate”.

The chief executive took “overall responsibility” for the exclusion, but the judge found that the reason she gave for making this decision was unjustifiable.

The suspension of cardiac surgeons from the department cost the trust £11 million in lost revenue and a further £936,130 in direct legal costs.

The combined trusts are currently predicting a deficit of £115 million in 2024-25.

At a patient safety conference in London on Thursday, organised by the whistleblowers’ group Justice for Doctors, Jane Somerville, emeritus professor of cardiology at Imperial College London, called for managers to be regulated in the same way that doctors are.

A spokesman for St George’s said: “The Trust took patient safety concerns raised very seriously, taking a number of actions to strengthen both outcomes for patients and working relationships within the cardiac surgery service which is now performing well, in line with other centres.”

Penny Emrit, the chief executive at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust that unfairly dismissed whistleblower Dr Macanovic said that it prioritised patient and staff safety and support colleagues raising concerns and was “sorry” about the approach taken in her case.

“We have taken action to address the findings of the employment tribunal including improvements in our internal investigations, disciplinary and dismissal processes. The Trust Board commissioned an independent review to identify lessons learned which has led to a review of our whistleblowing policy to include independent oversight of all whistleblowing allegations through the Director of Governance and Risk,” she said.