Could 2013 become the ‘Year of the Whistle-blower’? It would certainly seem so given the on-going controversy over NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about British/American global surveillance and the unfolding story of courageous NHS whistle-blower Kay Sheldon.
While some whistle-blowers are motivated by malice, self promotion or financial gain, most are ordinary grounded individuals, motivated by the highest of moral and ethical standards. Whistle-blowing is a risky business. Many honest whistle-blowers have found that far from being supported for exposing wrongdoing, they have been abused, maligned and in some cases seriously persecuted.
Kay Sheldon was a non-executive board member of the Care Quality Commission. When she discovered the commission was passing hospitals which were later found to have serious problems likely to affect patient care and welfare, she ‘blew the whistle’. It was then that Ms Sheldon’s real problems began.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday online she said: “Mentally ill, paranoid, troublemaker. I was branded all of these things when I blew the whistle on the body set up to safeguard patients and ensure that standards among care providers in the NHS were met.
The past two years have been the most stressful of my life. I’ve felt bullied, isolated and victimised – just because I was trying to do my job of holding the Care Quality Commission, the healthcare watchdog, to account. It’s only now, after months of trying to prove the CQC was not fit for purpose and that patients’ lives were at risk, that I have been vindicated.”
The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) is legislation which currently protects whistle-blowers in public bodies and the private sector from harassment by employers. It does not yet apply to protection from harassment by co-workers or fellow members of organisations. In a proposed amendment to existing legislation, the Coalition proposes to extend the Act to cover abuse from co-workers. Campaigners are however demanding that PIDA be scrapped and rewritten as it is currently not fit for purpose.
Whistle-blowers in the Bible were called ‘prophets.’ In the New Testament, Jesus himself acknowledged the heavy price that some of these people paid for exposing wrongdoing. Recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said: ‘Wherefore you are witnesses unto yourselves, that you are the children of them, which killed the prophets.’
I will be joining that campaign to press for assurances that any new legislation will legally compel churches and other religious organisations to protect individuals who expose wrongdoing from abuse by their members.