Court action has been threatened against an NHS regulator over the delayed report of the mistreatment of whistleblowers.
An inquiry was carried out after a manager alleged Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust was manipulating its death rates.
With the media having learned of the situation, the BBC made a request for further information on the subject.
And the Freedom of Information Commissioner has warned the NHS Trust Development Authority that failure to respond to a BBC request could be contempt of court.
In response, the authority claimed that it had experienced difficulty in locating all of the requisite information.
But in the meantime, there must be question marks regarding the conduct of the organisation.
The independent inquiry had begun back in March 2014 after manager Sandra Haynes Kirkbright made the allegation.
The investigation was intended to provide an expedient examination of the treatment of whistleblowers by Chief Executive David Loughton.
Yes there have been repeated difficulties in acquiring information.
Former chairman Richard Harris, a non-executive director, David Ritchie, and cancer specialist David Ferry – a consultant who revealed patient safety concerns – have given evidence in the whistleblowing enquiry, while other credentialed individuals have also been involved.
Considering the length of time that the Wolverhampton trust has taken to respond to Freedom of information requests, it would be reasonable to conclude that something seems to be seriously awry.
The BBC had originally made an FOI request on 27th October, and followed up on this on 5th January, after investigations were blocked.
At that time, the BBC contacted the FOI commissioner after three attempts to get a response from the authority had proved unproductive.
Yet the Wolverhampton trust has still failed to comply with BBC requests; a tardiness that would seem to be simply indefensible.
Commenting on the issue, a spokesman for the authority attempted to explain the extreme delays in providing the requested information.
“We have faced difficulties in locating all of the documents relevant to your request which has contributed to the delay. We are still working to retrieve these to ensure that we can share with you as much relevant information as possible.”
The commissioner told the authority to provide a “substantive response” to the BBC request within 35 days, warning failure to do so may be dealt with as contempt of court.
Freedom of Information requests were originally created in order to ensure that public bodies can be held to account by the media, and also to offer access to legitimate information to the general public.
The Care Quality Commission has released a statement regarding issues related to Royal Wolverhampton Hospital.
This institution has recently been the subject of media headlines, following a historical case that plagued the Midlands hospital.
Between 2005 and 2010, numerous patients were given inappropriate chemotherapy treatments, not recommended by the national guidelines of the time.
This was not investigated for several years, until the Care Quality Commission was first alerted to concerns related to the Wolverhampton hospital back in September 2013.
At this time, a comprehensive inspection of the trust was carried out, and it became clear that chemotherapy treatment had not been administered appropriately.
After a lengthy investigation, the Care Quality Commission referenced the chemotherapy treatment at Royal Wolverhampton Hospital in its most recent report.
This was published back in September 2015, at which time the Care Quality Commission rated the trust as requiring improvement.
Following on from this assessment, Professor Sir Mike Richards, Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, has been commenting on the ongoing issue, and the existing situation at the Wolverhampton hospital.
Richards firstly noted the history of this particular complaint.
“We were informed that an internal investigation had been conducted in 2009. This showed that a number of patients had received treatment for their cancer which was not recommended in national guidelines. We were also informed that this non-standard practice had ceased by 2009.
“In 2014, the trust commissioned a further external investigation by two leading oncologists. This concluded that there had been unsatisfactory practice but that with one exception this had resulted in no long-term harm. This review also looked at a more recent group of patients and confirmed that the unsatisfactory practice had ceased.”
Richards followed up by updating healthcare professionals on the action that has taken place during 2015.
“We inspected the trust again in June 2015. Our inspection team included a senior cancer specialist to enable us to look specifically at the trust’s current chemotherapy service. The conclusion of this inspection matched that of the previous reviews. We found that changes had been made and that the trust was providing a safe chemotherapy service. We have had several conversations with a whistleblower about these issues.
“Our report was published in September 2015 with a reference to the whistleblower. It concludes that the trust has acted properly to concerns raised and taken steps to learn from the incident.”
Richards concludes by correcting errors in the published Care Quality Commission report.
“However, although our report went through a factual accuracy check, unfortunately there was a typographical error in it, which should have stated that the care the patients received was ‘not in line with practice at the time’. This has since been corrected.
“Making sure that patients get safe, high-quality and compassionate care continues to be our priority. If we receive information to suggest that patients are not being cared for appropriately then we will not hesitate to take action.”
As a result of the inappropriate conduct at the hospital, fifty-five cancer patients at New Cross Hospital were given extra chemotherapy treatment they did not need in a scandal revealed by an NHS whistleblower.