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NHS trust denies bullying and intimidation of IT whistleblower

Managers were already aware of whistleblower's concerns about the accuracy of NHS Southwark's data, tribunal hears

A health trust has denied bullying and intimidation of a former nurse who blew the whistle on serious IT problems which put patient care at risk.

Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is contesting a claim by former clinical commissioner Bernie Rochford for constructive dismissal.

Rochford claims she was forced to leave in July 2014, after raising concerns about the quality of patient records on the trust’s Total Care Management database with senior managers in Southwark, then a Primary Care Trust (PCT).

Southwark had no clear idea of how many patients were on its books, where the patients were, or whether they were alive or dead. Patient information was wrongly being sent to people who were not involved in patient care, and faxes requesting urgent patient care were overlooked, according to evidence presented in an earlier tribunal. 

During a hearing on 14 September 2015, Rochford’s line manager, Kate Moriarty-Baker, head of continuing care and safeguarding, told an employment tribunal that the trust had already been aware of Rochford’s concerns.

Moriarty-Baker said she had written a report identifying the problems, including the need for a new patient database, and sent it to Andrew Bland, then chief executive of NHS Southwark PCT. “I did not need Bernie to highlight what the issues were. I knew what they were,” she said.

Under cross-examination from barrister Mark Benney, Moriarty-Baker told the tribunal that it was wrong to suggest that she had failed to pass on a report written by Rochford, which raised concerns about the accuracy of patient data, to her line manager Gwen Kennedy, director of commissioning.

Moriarty-Baker said she regularly updated Kennedy about the work of the commissioning team, and that Rochford was part of the team. “No, it's not right. I did have conversations with Miss Kennedy about the report,” she said.

She told the tribunal: “I read it, I cross-checked with the work plan, I had discussions with Miss Kennedy about it.”

Former nurse Bernie Rochford

Benney suggested that Moriarty-Baker may have been reluctant to pass the report upwards as it would have revealed that a member of administrative staff had been “performing work above her pay grade”.

Moriarty-Baker said this was not the case and, as far as she was aware, the member of staff concerned had not been operating above her pay grade. 

She said the PCT had already brought in clinical commissioners, including Rochford, to address concerns about patient care.

Claims of bullying and harassment

Moriarty-Baker was questioned by Benney about a meeting with Rochford, during which she discussed a complaint from another colleague against Rochford for nearly an hour. She said it “was not my intention to make Miss Rochford feel insecure” by raising the issue.

Benny suggested that during the meeting, Moriarty-Barker and another colleague, Gwen Kennedy, director of commissioning, had bullied and harassed Rochford. “I do not accept that, it’s not true,” said Moriarty-Baker. She rejected the suggestion that she had found Rochford a troublesome employee.

Rochford claimed the CCG was involved in “falsifying and misrepresenting meetings” and that her confidence in her employer “had evaporated and she had no option but to claim constructive dismissal”, said Benney.

Moriarty-Baker was asked why she had completed several documents referring Rochford to occupational health. She replied that she was following good practice and was managing Miss Rochford’s health after she had taken 208 days off sick in four blocks over a 12-month period.

She told the tribunal she did not know [Rochford] was deeply distressed” and had simply been “setting out the facts” and inviting her to a sickness review hearing”.

The tribunal ruled that there was no reason to hear evidence from Andrew Bland, chief officer of Southwark CCG. The tribunal was told that Bland was taking annual leave for three days during the week-long hearing and was not available for the other two days because of professional commitments.

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The tribunal also rejected a request to order Southwark to release further documents that Rochford’s barrister said should have been released under the discovery process.

Representing Southwark CCG, Christopher Edwards told the tribunal that all documents in Southwark’s possession either had been disclosed, were not relevant, or did not exist.

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