Kay Sheldon and Margaret Hodge

Changes to improve support for whistleblowers in the health sector may not be effective, according to Care Quality Commission board member Kay Sheldon, because officials in the Department of Health (DH) haven’t “really taken responsibility for what happened” to her after she made whistleblowing disclosures in 2011.

By Suzannah.Brecknell

28 Mar 2014

Speaking to the Public Accounts Committee on Monday, Sheldon (pictured above left) said that: “If [officials] did engage with me or other whistleblowers, it would really change things – but so far they haven’t done it.”

Sheldon’s mental health was called into question after she raised concerns about the CQC’s effectiveness. The DH responded with a report which she described as “frankly, a deliberate hatchet job,” and attempted to dismiss her from the CQC board.

Sheldon said she has not been given an explanation for her treatment; nor has any disciplinary action been taken against officials who she believes mistreated her.

She was asked by the committee to name individuals who had taken part in attempts to discredit and remove her from the CQC board. She said that the review – commissioned to examine both the issues she’d raised, and the government’s response – was conducted by Gill Ryder, former head of the Cabinet Office’s Civil Service Capability Group.

This review was found by Sheldon’s lawyers to be “unfair, unlawful, and illegal”, she said, and the DH “backed down immediately.” She added: “I agreed not to sue [then health secretary] Andrew Lansley, and he agreed not to dismiss me.”

PAC chair Margaret Hodge (pictured above right) said that several other whistleblowers chose not to appear at the hearing, adding: “There is a culture of complete fear out there”.

Hodge also questioned HMRC permanent secretary Lin Homer over the treatment of whistle blower Osita Mba. HMRC used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) – designed to catch terrorists – to obtain Mba’s telephone records and other personal information.

Homer said she was unable to give “carte blanche assurances for evermore” that RIPA would not be used against whistleblowers, but acknowledged that HMRC had made mistakes in its investigation of Mba.

Also on Monday, police whistleblower PC James Patrick resigned, citing his treatment after he told MPs about inaccuracies in the Met’s crime figures. He said: “My experience led me to see just how flawed the whistleblowing system is.”

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