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Doctor risks sack by going public over whistle-blowing

A whistle-blowing doctor is risking a six-figure settlement and possibly the sack by speaking of her refusal to sign a severance agreement with a health board because it would gag her.

SPEAKING OUT: Dr Jane Hamilton believes it is her professional duty to stand by the concerns she raised. Picture: Colin Mearns
SPEAKING OUT: Dr Jane Hamilton believes it is her professional duty to stand by the concerns she raised. Picture: Colin Mearns

Dr Jane Hamilton says she is not prepared to stay silent over serious concerns she has raised about a specialist psychiatric mother and baby unit (MBU) at St John's Hospital in Livingston.

Her case has been taken up by campaigners who say her treatment by her employers, NHS Lothian health board, is an attack on free speech, and question the legality of moves to silence her.

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Dr Hamilton warned someone would die because of what she said were shortcomings in care at the unit. Since she raised her concerns four years ago she has been off work from the unit through suspension and stress-related illness.

An established consultant ­specialising in perinatal psychiatry who had moved from England to take charge of the MBU when it opened in 2007, she has refused to make any comment until now.

She said: "I have felt from the start that I had a clear professional and ethical duty to make representations to those in authority. At one point I even warned in writing that somebody could die and tragically that proved to be the case on more than one occasion.

"I raised these concerns as 'protected disclosures' which are supposed to come with safeguards for whistle- blowers against victimisation. But they are now being inappropriately classed as 'grievances' by the health board who want me to withdraw them and never publicly mention them again. I find that outrageous and am simply not prepared to do that given the clear public interest.

"I may now lose any settlement, my job, indeed my career, but I believe my clear professional duty of candour at this point is to raise these matters publicly."

NHS Lothian has been reported to Health Secretary Alex Neil by leading accountability campaigners.

As The Herald revealed last month, NHS Lothian is already facing legal action by the family of one of the mothers, Claire Donald. She took her own life by jumping off the Erskine Bridge aged 37, leaving a husband and two young daughters. A second mother also subsequently committed suicide.

But long before these tragedies, Dr Hamilton had warned NHS Lothian in writing that somebody could die because the MBU was not functioning properly. This was after a series of critical incidents.

She herself quickly became the subject of an internal grievance procedure herself, and was suspended.

Former psychiatric nurse Rab Wilson, who exposed a catalogue of errors surrounding the deaths of 20 patients in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, has written to Mr Neil about Dr Hamilton.

He said: "This is most definitely not an 'employment issue' but an attack on free speech, basic human rights, and a deliberate attempt to cover up yet another major scandal in our NHS, and one that impinged directly on patient safety. These gagging orders need to go now and Jane Hamilton desperately needs your public support."

Meanwhile the consultant paediatrician who was vindicated in the Baby P child neglect scandal in London has written to Mr Neil after reading The Herald's story on Claire Donald.

Dr Kim Holt founded the Patients First campaign group to ensure the NHS becomes open and accountable, and told Mr Neil: "I believe that the case of Dr Jane Hamilton, a perinatal psychiatrist who tried to raise concerns about the management of the service, needs a full inquiry. Patients First fully supports her with her case."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it would be inappropriate to comment on ongoing individual cases but all health boards had to have in place robust bullying and harassment policy and procedures. They also had to support and encourage staff to raise any concerns they have about practices in NHS Scotland and ensure that these are investigated.

She said: "NHS Scotland does not prevent staff from raising concerns about practices in the NHS. This would be illegal under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1998."

Dr David Farquharson, Medical Director, NHS Lothian, said: "We cannot comment on individual cases involving members of NHS Lothian staff."

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