13 October 2010

Conflict of Interest or Business as Usual?

The Problems Faced by Whistleblowers

The issue of whistle blowers in the public sector - or in either sector - remains problematic. How can one have the courage and security to follow one's conscience in highlighting (potential) problems, without fear or prejudice?

It is more or less universally agreed that in order for issues, improvements, inefficiencies and injustices to be flagged up it is necessary for 'ordinary workers', indeed, all workers to dispose of a clear, non-discriminatory and, preferably, anonymous system by which they can raise systemic failures which would otherwise go unnoticed and unchecked. But this ideal is often very different from practice.

And even when an issue has been raised, how does one ensure that it is dealt with in a fair and thorough matter?

This post deals with this very subject. It deals with a recent example of a whilsteblower - this time in the private sector - in the specialist area or residential care for the vulnerable, some old and some young.


Chronology

Between the 17th and 22nd June, a job was advertised in the J.E.P. for the position of Manager of a residential care home, which we will (very originally) call 'x'. 

X is a private care home which takes in a wide range of individuals, including of all ages, with various and wide ranging needs. It is of particular interest to me, as a States Member, as x is a care home into which the States are moving many individuals currently in the care of Health and Social Services. 

Whilst it is not the job of this post to explore the pros and cons of public vs private care, it is incumbent on any right minded individual to want to know that vulnerable members of the community are being given the best care, or at least treated with basic dignity.

At the end of June, I was contacted by friend who was aware of a particular individual employed in a care home who was uneasy about some of the practices/conditions in the home in which he worked.

I arranged to meet the carer, who was accompanied by the friend, to hear his concerns; the issues were various, and whilst they did not relate to abuse, per se, the criticisms did relate to '(benign) neglect' - a lack of suitable tailored provision for the social, physical and emotional needs of the residents, in addition to the absence of adequate training, induction and background checks being given and carried out on new members of staff. This list is by no means exhaustive, but explains some of the issues that our whislteblower wanted to bring to the fore.


On 2nd July, we both attended Le Bas Centre, to lodge an official statement with officer 'A', who is an inspector for care homes in the island. He seemed to take the complaints seriously, and recorded a statement which was approved by the whistleblower and witnessed by me.

An investigation took place which, according to the H & SS Minister, was completed on 23rd July, although the first draft, also completed by officer A,  was 'presented to the Team Leader of Registration and Inspection on the 4th August'. 

Meanwhile, officer A, applied for the post of manager of X, the same care home for which he was still drafting his report); 

On 26th July, he was interviewed for the position on 29th July and received written confirmation offering him the post on 5th August. He tendered his resignation the same day. 

A copy of the final draft was sent to our whilstleblower on 20th August .


When asked in a written question whether she was 'satisfied that there was no conflict of interest on the part of the officer who carried out the inquiry and that there was no risk of the report not being objective or impartial?' (written question 12 October 2010)  -she replied:


I am satisfied that the utmost probity has been undertaken by the officers of the Health Protection Service. In the course of the investigation, an interagency approach was used with evidence being presented directly by social workers and other allied professionals via the home’s records. The investigation was not conducted solely by one officer.  The head of the service has as part of overseeing the process ensured that the appropriate level of investigation has been undertaken, the process has ensured that the report and its findings have been scrutinised by the investigating officer’s line managers as part of due diligence.

But the real question that needs to be asked, but sadly which is difficult to verify, is at whether Officer A knew that he was going to apply for the advertised job whilst he was conducting the investigation.
He certainly knew, whilst writing the report, that he might be taking the job.

But questions still remain.

What is certain, is that the whistleblower is to be commended for his actions. Irrespective of whether the report was a whitewash or not, the issues have been flagged up and are now being acted upon.

I wish officer  A Bon Courage and bonne chancein his new position. We will be following progress in the home with interest.


13 comments:

  1. Contrast the above with what ILM said about the ACPO reports on the HDLG investigation review, where one of the team nearly got a job so there was a conflict of interest!

    Lets not even get onto conflicts of interest with Warcup and his letter which left out the qualifications, which led to his boss being suspended, but would appear to be okay.

    When is a conflict of interest taken seriously, it would appear only when it suits!!

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  2. were was the backbone in the states this week tls was bullshiting about every thing to do with mr power seems to me that only d,hill had any backbone talk about yes minster

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  3. Deputy Hill must indeed be commended for his actions, not only in the States, but the oversight throughout the Napier process, and for not standing for any of the Chief Minister's attempted shenanigans.

    (Incidentally one of the consequences of releasing the report last Friday and not before was that it prevented States Members lodging any oral questions about the content of the report, as the deadline for these is Thursday lunchtime. I leave it to readers to decide whether or not this was done deliberately, with this in mind)

    As you can see from the above post, as politicans, we all have different areas that we are working on. Bob's expertise in this area, partly from his past career as a police officer, clearly means that he is well placed to lead.

    But what I will say is that the Chief Minister and Home Affairs minister will be facing many questions this coming Tuesday on the subject of Napier, and the suspension more generally.

    As the anonymous commentator will no doubt be aware, a number of the progressive politicians are working together on this and other issues.

    I will post my questions regarding this and other issues over the weekend.

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  4. Incidentally, it is not fair to say that Deputy Hill was the only one to pull the Chief Minsiter up on questionable things he said.

    Daniel Wimberley, quite correctly pointed out that the CM had mislead the assembly when he said that Napier had said that there was evidence that there 'could' have been failings in the process. THERE CLEARLY WERE FAILINGS. There was no COULD about it. Unfortunately, the majority of Establishment members prefer to chide the Deputy of St Mary for daring to speak out against the Chief Minister rather than demand higher standards of their elected leader.

    There were also interventions from Deputy Trevor Pitman, asking whether there would be any other civil servants to be suspended as a result of the Napier Report

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  5. i see what you are saying and i know deputy pitman done what he could as did deputy wimberley but come on there should be much more tls has to have a vote of no confidence in him and hes foot stamping idiotic comic consul and i was the anonymous who said no backbone and i stand by that untill tuesday then i do hope to see some?

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  6. mr tadier
    as politicans you should all be working for the good of jersey and its people that could be why nothing gets done if you all work in different areas

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  7. Martin,

    Thanks for your comments. You are completely right. You can take some comfort in the fact that a group of me and my colleagues have started meeting up again to co-ordinate on tactics, question plans and areas of common interest as well as working towards common goals (such as the promotion of greater democracy and more transparency in government).

    What I really meant to say is that it is, to a certain extent, only natural that different States Members have different priorities. For some members the priority is the what is happening with proposed cuts to frontline services; for others, it is protection of the vulnerable (old and young), currently in the care of the State; again, others have turned their energies and expertise towards the serious contradictions surrounding the dismissal of Mr Power.

    The key thing here, is that those who are (crudely speaking) 'on the same side', all know what is going on and share information. Thankfully, this is starting to happen.

    But the bottom line remains more generally, that in a non-party political setting, it is much more difficult to be productive at effecting change than in a party setting where co-ordination and access to resources and combined skills is greater.

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  8. Thanks for commenting on Jersey - Now 22.7% Less Democratic! - I have added two new points today.
    Best wishes

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  9. I am guessing there are those sitting in the States just thankful to have a job.

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  10. Strange that your readers comments cannot keep to the original topic which raised some valid concerns.

    Part of the problem with the lack of coordinated action is that individuals will not give support to each other.

    What has happened to the person who transferred to public sector employment in the strange circumstances outlined? Was he conflicted? Is anybody investigating the matter further?

    If such matters are just casually mentioned and then forgotten nothing will be challenged or changed for the better.

    Are you pressing the matter Deputy - what next?

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  11. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for the previous comment. Clearly, as stated, questions need to be asked again, so I will co-ordinate with those who raised the issue with me in the first place and take advice from them.

    The problem, so often in these cases, is that the whistleblower, once s/he has found alternative employment and raised the issue once, does not want to keep on fighting, partly out of fatigue, partly from fear of jeopardising the new job and future prospects.

    This is problematic, because without mainstream media attention, these issues can get brushed aside (dare I say 'covered up', much more easily.
    For example, I had approached one of the mainstream media about the matter. They asked for the report, unfortunately it is difficult to do much without the blessing of the original whistleblower. One has to respectthe confidentiality of one's constituents. There are also the residents to think of.

    But the sentiment of your comment is most certainly taken on board.

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  12. do the right thing then you will be a politican.or take the cash do nothing and sleep well at night

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