My name is Sharmila.
I worked as a radiographer in the NHS for 30 years, until I became a whistleblower.
I had worked in the NHS since 1980, qualifying as a radiographer in 1983, going on to have 30 wonderful years of uninterrupted employment. I joined Ealing Hospital in February 2003 as Deputy Imaging Manager and I was promoted to Imaging Manager in May 2008.
As Imaging Manager, I was responsible for 60 members of staff in the department, but not including consultant radiologists. I was also the budget holder for the department and was responsible for signing off any additional work and attendance of all staff, this time including all consultant radiologists. It was then, as the departmental budget holder, that I began to notice discrepancies.
I raised concerns that very substantial sums of money were being paid to two consultants who were working – over a period spanning several years – at a private hospital whilst being simultaneously paid by the Ealing Hospital Trust. Correspondence with the private hospital’s manager confirmed what I had thought; that they had attended the hospital since April 2006 whilst also being paid by the Trust. The concern was escalated up the management chain and all parties involved eventually agreed that it was a problem. Additionally, the consultants in question, were claiming for overtime they had not worked.
The practice was not stopped however, and I was dismissed after false counter allegations were made against me. Following 30 years of unblemished service to the NHS, I was to be escorted out of the building in front of my staff, marking the end of my career as a Radiographer.
My fightback started that day. I submitted my case for a Interim Relief hearing, something I went on to win, as well as a subsequent disciplinary appeal. The Trust refused to let me return, on the grounds that my post was now ‘redundant’ due to technology. My legal fees – by this time – had escalated to £130,000 and I had to pay £78,500 from my settlement. The Trust has since apologised but, as of yet, I have not received financial support to help pay for the legal costs incurred.
Since the ruling, I have been unable to find work. One job offer was withdrawn when they discovered I was a whistleblower. I have also had interviews cancelled and posts withdrawn during the hiring process. I am now not only in financial ruin but am also seriously ill with cancer; a cancer that several consultants believe may be linked to the stress of my treatment. I am also about to lose my home.
At present, no action has been taken against those responsible for cheating the NHS out of large sums of money, nor against those who colluded to victimise me. I am not without evidence of the concerns I have raised; I have an excellent paper trail to support my claims.
The list of those I have contacted to repeatedly raise concerns of budgetary discrepancies during my time at Ealing Hospital continues to grow with each passing day. So far I have contacted; the NHS Counter Fraud team, NHS London, Sir Robert Francis, QC – an esteemed barrister specialising in medical law – as well as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne and the Prime Minster, David Cameron. Nearly all replied, but did not offer any kind of support for my continuing fight.
The Department of Health (DoH), Downing Street and NHS London advised me that they couldn’t get involved as it was an employment issue but, following a Freedom of Information request, it transpired that the DoH were communicating fully with the Ealing Hospital Trust – my employer at the time – with regards to my case and settlement. Collectively, they viewed my payoff as ‘good value for money’.
Following pressure from a BBC investigation, NHS Counter Fraud contacted the local Counter Fraud department – employed by Ealing Hospital – but only to ask the Senior Trust Manager how to respond. The Local Counter Fraud team have also failed to investigate my concerns further, following my repeated submissions of evidence to their offices. None of the managers, nor the consultants, I implicated in my whistleblowing have been held to account.
My case has garnered national attention, having has been featured by the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, The Independent, The Guardian, Sunday Times, Daily Mirror, Sunday Telegraph and also in local media outlets.
On 30 May 2014, I wrote an open letter to Hunt asking for help. He met with me and few other whistleblowers, alongside the Head of NHS England, Simon Stevens. Following our discussions, Hunt commissioned a review into NHS whistleblowing and instructed Sir Robert Francis, QC to lead the report.
In January 2015, I was invited to attend Whitehall by Ed Miliband, Labour minister, and received the local hero award. In January 2015 I submitted the Fit and Proper Persons Test to CQC. This measure was created for the sole purpose to investigate managers not fit for their jobs. This included managers who victimised known whistleblowers.
In the build up to the May 2015 General Election, Jeremy Hunt’s office sourced me a job. A fixed-term contact, with a serious pay-reduction attached. I was promised, however, that I be able to apply for it to become a permanent post. Due to the loss of earnings and employment following my whistleblowing, I accepted the job.
Following my submission of the Fit and Proper Persons Test to CQC in January, I received a response from CQC in July 2015; I was advised that none of the reported managers would be investigated.
Unfortunately, whilst in post I was subjected to adverse treatment by my employer – Imperial Hospital; I can only presume that the hospital’s Trust was not happy having been forced by Hunt to offer me a job. I continued to work.
My contract with Imperial ended on 30th November 2015; following 10 months of employment, I was made redundant due to several staffing restructures. I was left unemployed yet again. I have not given up hope though, in the face of such stunning adversity. I have continued to write to Hunt, Simon Stevens at NHS England, Sarah Wollaston at health select Committee, HSC, and TDA for assistance, support and help. Responses were not helpful, to say the least.
Today, my fight continues – not only with my case, but also battling cancer.
I have recently written another open letter to Hunt – printed in the Health Service Journal. Hunt has yet to respond.
Following my whistleblowing and the backlash I suffered as a result of raising my concerns, I have been left financially ruined. To add further insult to injury, I will soon lose my home due to my current financial situation. I have had to rely on kindness of others over the last several months – by the way of generous monetary donations – in order to survive.
Do I feel vindicated? Not at all, despite even winning my case. There has been no independent inquiry into either the concerns raised or of my treatment as a whistleblower. I am not looking for glory or personal fame; I whistleblew because I noticed financial discrepancies during my time as a budget holder and radiographer, feeling it necessary to flag such concerns to my employers. The sums of money involved were vast; if I had signed off on falsified documentation, I could have been personally implicated for fraud within the NHS.
Fraud is a serious issue for the NHS at present; it has been estimated that £5.7bn is lost annually to fraud within the NHS – as reported by a BBC investigation. Yet, in my case, reported consultants continue to be employed by the Trust, whilst I struggle to survive.
My fight to survive is far from over. I stood up for the NHS and thought that my concerns would be subject to due process. Instead, I lost my job, have struggled to find work, and now may lose my home.
Is this how the NHS should treat whistleblowers?
Is this fair?