Calls for change in the law after career of junior doctor 'destroyed' by whistleblowing on staff shortages

More than a thousand doctors are calling for a change in the law after a junior doctor says his career was destroyed after he blew the whistle on staff shortages.

Dr Chris Day alerted managers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, south-east London, after two locums failed to turn up for a night shift. He was already the only doctor covering an intensive care unit of 18 beds.

The NHS standard is there should be one doctor for 8 beds, so that’s quite a big difference. It was already a situation nowhere near what the standard says is safe.

Dr Chris Day
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust says it has increased the number of doctors supporting the Intensive Care Unit. Credit: ITV News

Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust subsequently investigated Dr Day’s concerns.

It told ITV News:

We have increased the number of doctors supporting the ICU, as well as increasing staffing numbers across the Trust.

Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust

But a few months later his entire career was in doubt.

His performance, previously praised by consultants and other hospital staff, was suddenly questioned along with his conduct. Not by the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, but by the body responsible for his training and career progression, Health Education England (HEE).

At his annual appraisal, Dr Day had told the HEE of the safety concerns he had raised at the Trust. He claims that following this his professional and personal conduct was called into question. And that as a direct result of this the HEE deleted his doctor training number making it impossible for him to progress his career.

Dr Chris Day said the situation at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in London was unsafe. Credit: ITV News

He took his battle to the court arguing that having raised safety concerns he should have been protected under whistleblowing regulations. But the court found against him ruling that Health Education England was not subject to whistleblowing law because it was not his employer.

Dr Day was shocked at the outcome which he says raises serious concerns for junior doctors and their patients.

I think this is catastrophic to patient safety this ruling, and to our quest as a nation to have a more transparent health care system.

Dr Chris Day

In a statement HEE told ITV News the judgement was very clear.

We are not an employer, we offer training programmes and are not covered by this particular legislation and claims of detriment can only be brought against an employer, as defined under the Employment Rights Act 1966.

Health Education England

It also rejected claims that it had discriminated against him because of his whistleblowing.

Having looked at the facts relating to his allegation, we are convinced that this was not the case and that we acted properly towards him.

Health Education England
Dr Day was concerned for patient safety after two locums failed to turn up for a night shift. Credit: ITV News

The Department of Health admitted that the HEE was not covered by whistleblowing legislation. But it insisted that doctors were protected when raising safety concerns under whistle-blowing legislation because NHS Hospital Trusts are fully covered by the law.

Tim Johnson, the employment lawyer acting for Dr Day said:

Well you would think that because Junior doctors are responsible for patient safety and in Chris' case, critical patient safety, that if anyone had gold plated whistle blowing protection it ought to be junior doctors and they ought to be able to speak up and they ought to be able to tell people in authority and management at the NHS if they think that things are going wrong.

Tim Johnson, Dr Day's lawyer

The discovery seems to fly in the face of government promises to fully protect NHS whistle-blowers.

The junior doctor at the centre of the case now has the support of over a thousand medics who believe patient safety is at risk and say the loophole needs to be closed immediately.