Former nurse’s career blighted after blowing whistle on IT problems

Southwark's continuing care database included names of patients who had been dead for several years, a tribunal is told

A former nurse who raised concerns about a health service database said her disclosure had a “detrimental effect” on her and her career.

Bernadette Rochford (pictured), who worked as a continuing care commissioner at the then Southwark Primary Care Trust (PCT) in south London, raised concerns about a database which she claimed included names of patients who had been dead for several years.

Her employer dealt with her concerns under its whistleblowing policy.

The database, known as Total Care Management (TCM), developed by a small company in Hither Green, London, was designed to manage the continuing healthcare needs of patients who needed medical assistance to live at home or in care homes.

Speaking under cross examination at an employment tribunal on 12 May 2015, Rochford said: “The respondent did not know what patients on the database were dead or alive.”

She told the tribunal at the Croydon Employment Tribunal Service that she was not trying to raise the issue that the trust paid for the care of dead patients.

Rochford added: “The fact that you don’t know whether they are dead or alive for three or four years is an issue.”

An earlier employment tribunal in 2014 decided that there was no evidence of any overpayments made to patients. It also rejected Rochford’s claims that she had been subject to racism, bullying and harassment following her disclosure of concerns about the IT system. 

An internal disciplinary against an employee, following complaints by Rochford, has been dismissed, the more recent tribunal heard.

Rochford has brought the current case for constructive dismissal against NHS Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the body which replaced the Southwark PCT following the 2012 NHS reorganisation.

She claimed at the tribunal that she faced discrimination after she raised the concerns. The tribunal heard that she was off work with stress-related illness and was eventually on half pay. 

“I feel that I have been discriminated against because of the whistleblowing. This has had an appalling and detrimental effect on me, my personal life and potentially my career,” said Rochford.

During cross examination by Christopher Edwards she explained that when she accidentally sent an email with confidential information to the wrong person she contacted her employers to tell them. The tribunal heard Rochford was sent a Caldicott letter by her employer.

She added: “I have done it once, the staff  have sent out hundreds of pieces of sensitive information to unrelated people and no action was taken. That had been going on for years.

“When I alerted that there were hundreds of sensitive patient records sent out to the wrong people, that was not acted on.”

Rochford claimed that emails containing sensitive patient information had been sent out between 2008 and 2011, but accepted that secure emails were not available at the time.

Edwards told the tribunal that the CCG disputed Rochford’s claims that it had agreed that she would carry out an audit of the TCM database.

In a witness statement lodged in the tribunal, Rochford claimed that managers at Southwark had agreed in a grievance hearing to let her audit TCM database for errors, but later reneged.

The case continues.

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This article caught my attention because I work in healthcare IT, however after reading it, I'm confused. What is the actual issue here? It isn't illegal to simply store health information of dead patients, is it? Is it implied that this nurse's company was involved in fraud because it kept records of dead people?

It's unfortunate though, that the nurse was punished for bringing light to an issue that she believed was wrong.
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The best NHS IT Director I have ever met was a former nurse. She was/is fantastic at her job. Perhaps this lady has a valuable and worthwhile new career by coming over to the dark side in IT?

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