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Whistleblower nurses lose jobs in care fight for vulnerable Belfast patient

NewsBy Jamie McDowell
Kevin Murray lost his job for speaking out
Kevin Murray lost his job for speaking out
Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots

A seriously ill patient is at the centre of a Health Service whistleblowing scandal that may have cost three nurses their jobs.

The health practitioners – all agency nurses – broke cover to voice concerns about the care plan put in place for the brain injury patient.

In the space of three years between 2010 and 2013, Belfast man Kevin Murry made 10 complaints to both his employer – the A24 Group – and the Belfast Trust.

Each and every one was ignored and the only outcome was Kevin’s name being removed from the agency’s register, landing him on the dole queue.

A24, a national agency, has since pulled out of Northern Ireland.

 Laura Lavery says she also lost her job for speaking out 

The helpless patient – referred to as ‘Patient M’ – is unaware of the furore surrounding the case which has now drawn in the Royal College of Nurses (RCN), regulatory body the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), the PSNI and the Department of Health.

After being awarded undisclosed damages in an industrial hearing, Mr Murray spoke to the Sunday World and told of his frustration that none of the nursing bodies, including the RCN and RQIA, was prepared to investigate his complaints.

The Sunday World contacted both organisations.

The RCN said in Northern Ireland it was the RQIA who should deal with whistleblowing complaints. When we contacted the RQIA, they said that it was not a matter for them as the body “does not involve itself in employment matters between a whistleblower and their employer”.

Kevin said he was then forced to take his complaints to the PSNI. However, their Vulnerable Adults Team advised him that the protection of Patient M was “beyond their remit” under a agreement with the Department of Health known as “joint protocols”.

Since we spoke to Kevin four other nurses told the Sunday World they had initially been suspended and effectively sacked for raising concerns about Patient M. Two of them – Vivienne Jones and Laura Lavery – were prepared to go on the record.

The joint protocol is a system whereby the Health and Social Care Board works with the PSNI in order to address situations where a vulnerable adult or child may be at risk.

However, in 2013, the DUP’s Edwin Poots, who was then Health Minister, was asked by Michael Copeland of the UUP in a written question: “In light of the joint protocols with the PSNI that effectively allow Health and Social Care Trusts to police themselves, who is ultimately responsible for this policing process?”

With whom does the buck stop? Effectively no-one, says Kevin Murray.

This means that it is up to the Trust to investigate whether or not any wrongdoing or criminality has been undertaken by its own staff or by agency staff used by it. He said whistleblowers had been left exposed.

In 2012, Mr Poots, in an official document sent to HSC workers entitled ‘Your Right to Whistleblow’, stated that staff who whistleblow will be protected by the courts.

Kevin says the report seems to have been written in invisible ink: “It is not acceptable to ask a nurse to live through a grievance procedure, to lose their job, to be subjected to bullying and have their professional credentials ruined,” he said.

Since Kevin approached us regarding the treatment of Patient M, two more nurses, who either work for the Trust or an agency the Trust uses to source staff, have spoken to the Sunday World saying they lost their jobs for voicing their concerns over the treatment of the same patient.

We have also spoken to two other nurses who have remained anonymous.

Early last month we spoke to one of those nurses, Vivienne Jones, who says she was suspended from healthcare and homecare services provider Trackars while working on Patient M’s care package without being given a reason why.

The Sunday World contacted the agency but it failed to respond.

This week we spoke to another nurse who says she too effectively lost her job in similar circumstances.

Registered nurse Laura Lavery was assigned Patient M’s care package by the Trust and claims the Belfast Trust breached two court orders put in place by a judge to protect the patient.

Laura also claims she had to fork out for vital resuscitation equipment using agency money, because the Trust failed to provide the equipment.

“This isn’t about me losing the care package, this is about the safety of Patient M,” she said.

When we contacted the Belfast Trust, a spokesperson said: “Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is bound by confidentiality and is unable to discuss a patient or client’s care or treatment. The Trust is in communication with the family and the patient is monitored and reviewed regularly.”

Now all four nurses want answers from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, as pressure mounts surrounding the case of Patient M.

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