Unfairly dismissed: the nurse who warned bosses of her patient safety fears

Patient death led whistleblower Linda Fairhall to speak out to her boss at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust 

Patient death led whistleblower Linda Fairhall to speak out to her boss at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust 

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A nurse with almost 40 years’ experience was unfairly dismissed after attempting to start a whistleblowing process following the death of a patient, an employment tribunal ruled.

Linda Fairhall, who had previously been commended by the Care Quality Commission and the Nursing and Midwifery Council for the way she managed her team, raised concerns with managers about increasing workload.

A history of reporting safe staffing concerns

Ms Fairhall, who worked for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, was a clinical care co-ordinator for a district nursing team of around 50 employees.

But she was suspended and eventually dismissed after stating her intention to whistleblow about staff being over-worked.

In case documents, Ms Fairhall claimed that between December 2015 and October 2016 she had raised a total of 13 matters with her bosses. These included that a change in local authority policy meant nurses would need to monitor patients to ensure medicines were being taken correctly.

She said the ‘meds prompts’ policy resulted in approximately 1,000 extra visits per month, but that no extra resources were being provided.

Ms Fairhall also claimed she had expressed concern that the staffing pressures were harming nurses' health.

Patient's death prompted meeting with managers

When a patient's death involved circumstances she thought could have been prevented, had her earlier concerns been addressed, Ms Fairhall asked to meet managers.

On 21 October 2016, she told the trust’s care group director, Julie Parks she wanted to instigate the formal whistleblowing procedure.

The nurse then went on annual leave but on her return, on 31 October, was told she was being suspended for 10 days ‘to allow an investigation to take place’.

This was linked to allegations of gross misconduct in relation to her leadership, as well as bullying and harassment.

Tribunal critical of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust investigation

Ms Fairhall remained suspended for 18 months – an unreasonable length of time, the tribunal said. Following a number of investigations, grievance procedures and appeals, she was dismissed in April 2018.

Upholding Ms Fairhall’s claim of unfair dismissal and that she had been penalised for raising her concerns, the tribunal criticised the trust’s investigation and found there was nothing in Ms Fairhall's actions that could be classed as potential gross misconduct.  

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said it intends to appeal.

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