Whistleblower Nurse Sounds the Alarm After Patient Death

A new rule in the U.K. has pushed one nurse to her breaking point. As a member of the National Health Service, nurse manager Linda Fairhall has been complaining about the lack of nurses in her area for months, but no one had done anything about it until one of her patients died.

However, instead of getting the help she needed, her employers retaliated against her for speaking up and fired her for allegations of bullying. She then issued a formal complaint with her local employment tribunal, the group that oversees and responds to employer disputes.

Now, she’s finally getting the justice she deserves. See how Fairhall is standing up for change, so her nurses can get the help they need.

Navigating the U.K. Healthcare System

The National Health Service runs the healthcare system in the U.K. An NHS trust is a specific unit within the Service, generally overseeing either a geographical area or a specialized function (such as an ambulance service). These are not trusts in the legal sense, but rather public sector corporations. Each trust has a board consisting of executive and non-executive directors and is chaired by a non-executive director.

Linda Fairhall started working for the NHS back in 1979. After many years of service, she eventually became the manager of a team of 50 district nurses across Hartlepool, a coastal community on the east side of England.

As the manager, Fairhall was responsible for implementing a new rule that required nurses to monitor their patients every time they took their medication to make sure they were doing it correctly. This meant nurses had to take more time out of their day to supervise their patients as they swallowed their pills. This may seem routine in some facilities, but others may not have the staff to carry it out.

Knowing her nurses were stretched thin as it was, Fairhall was concerned the new policy would do more harm than good. In practice, enacting the policy led to an extra 1,000 patient visits each month between her staff members.

Standing Up for Her Nurses

As the policy went into place, Fairhall issued a formal complaint to the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust about her district nurses being overworked and stretched too thin. She warned that this new policy and the subsequent lack of nurses could be a danger to her patients.

In October 2016, about ten months after her first complaint, Fairhall informed senior staff that she would start the formal whistleblowing process after losing one of her patients due to staffing shortages. Just ten days later, she was suspended from work for alleged bullying. She was then fired in April 2018, with her colleagues claiming “gross misconduct” relating to “inappropriate and unprofessional behavior including bullying and harassment.”

But what does bullying have to do with staffing shortages…

As it turns out, Fairhall was facing retaliation for coming forward as a whistleblower.

She decided to issue a formal complaint to the local employment tribune, which is responsible for hearing claims from people who think someone such as an employer or potential employer has treated them unlawfully, such as unfair dismissal and workplace discrimination.

The tribune eventually sided with Fairhall, arguing the allegations against her were vague and the investigation that led to her dismissal was “inadequate and unreasonable.” According to the official tribunal report, it is “reasonable to infer” that she had been fired as a result of her whistleblowing.

The report also found that her nurses were suffering from extreme stress and anxiety. It reads, “[Ms. Fairhall] was at the forefront of a team of nursing staff which was operating under considerable pressure and suffering from a lack of resources to meet the demands of the volume of work imposed upon them.”

The tribunal also said the patient’s death “may have been preventable had her earlier concerns been properly addressed.” The healthcare trust has announced it will file an appeal.

Fairhall was more than brave to speak up for her nurses. As a manager, she was responsible for the health and safety of her team and their patients. She refused to put them in harm’s way just to comply with a new government policy.

Even if the policy was meant to ensure patients take their medications properly, it put an undue burden on the nurses and staffers who were responsible for it carrying out. Facilities need to make sure they have the staff in place before issuing such a policy. This is another example of why more nurses should serve on boards, so they can share important information in terms of what it’s like to implement these policies on the ground.

We wish Fairhall all the best as she moves on to the next chapter of her career.

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