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Shooting the messengers with Sian Caiach of People First

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siancaiachTHE ACTING chair of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Standards Committee recently told a full council meeting that they should all take a pat on the back for being so good at being so good.

He was referring to the way in which the council responds to complaints and whistle blowers as well as commenting on how the ombudsman saw the County Council’s performance on such matters. All in all Mr Christopher Downward painted a very pretty picture, which rather than receiving rapturous applause, drew a stunned silence.

The Herald reported recently on how the council had dealt with attempts by whistle blowers in relation to the Coastal Care Programme and how the unions were adamant that members of staff had raised their concerns about financial irregularities and mismanagement but as Mark Evans of UNISON put it, had been subject of disciplinary action themselves.

The Herald spoke to one such public sector employee who offered to enlighten our readers as to what happens to observant and diligent members of staff who ‘blow the whistle’. People First AM candidate for Llanelli Sian Caiach began by saying:

“Bad news is rarely welcome. When public sector workers point out internal problems that need to be addressed they are unlikely to be praised for their diligence. More likely they will find themselves bullied, reviled and persecuted to the point that they are forced to leave their work. Careers and reputations are often destroyed and the problems identified may never actually be addressed.”

Sian was a successful orthopaedic consultant surgeon who chose to become a whistle blower. Here Sian sets out what happened when she spoke out. She says: “I lost my own career in medicine as an orthopaedic consultant surgeon in Llanelli after blowing the whistle on two issues. One was a private practice scam where surgeons operated for free on private patients in NHS theatres using NHS resources, displacing NHS waiting list patients who had waited in pain for months and charging private patients who had no idea that their surgery , tests and implants were paid for by the state. The other was a senior colleague of mine whose failing eyesight appeared to be affecting the quality of his patients’ care.”

Talking about how she was dealt with when she asked questions she told us: “My concerns were ignored and I was warned that if I continued making these allegations I would lose my job and never work again. That was indeed true. I was offered a £30,000 settlement provided I left Llanelli and agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement. I did not.

I was forced to leave after three years of suspension and becoming deskilled. I never worked again in the NHS and have had very little work as a doctor in the last decade. “Unfortunately a reputation as a “snitch” is a worse handicap than being a dangerously incompetent doctor who may have crippled or even killed several people.”

The repercussions for speaking out continued to affect Sian’s career. She told The Herald, “After leaving my job in 2005 I was banned, unlawfully as far as I can deduce, from entering any building in the Hywel Dda Trust except as a patient or accompanying a close relative “Former chief executive Mr Trevor Purt (who has departed a subsequent post in North Wales under a cloud) admitted to me that this was not legal, but his replacement Mr Steve Moore has reimposed the ban, barring me from medical meetings and using the medical libraries.

The ban was supposed to “protect the mental health of my former medical colleagues. Clearly some senior consultants still feel emotionally fragile at the prospect of setting eyes on me.” Sian Caiach turned her skills and energy towards another institution hoping to serve the people and community of Carmarthenshire in another way. She said: “I realise now that I won’t get back to being a practicing doctor and I’ve been an elected County Councillor in Carmarthenshire since 2008.

I didn’t expect to find the same culture of “shoot the messenger” in County Hall. After all, my old consultant colleagues who were in on the scamming were making a tidy personal profit on the deal and had a lot of motive to keep it going. Why would management in a local authority not wish service problems to be reported to them? Surely they had nothing personal at stake in such issues, and surely improving service to the public outweighs any embarrassment over an oversight or genuine mistake?”

Now C llr Caiach, Sian soon found herself meeting with other whistle blowers but this time within the County Council and she was shocked and dismayed that in fact they appeared to be getting the same or similar treatment to that, which she had encountered within the Health Service. Sian told The Herald: “Sadly this is not the case. Since I’ve been a councillor I’ve met several current and former members of Council staff who had become whistleblowers, then found themselves under attack after making their disclosures. Just like my experience in the NHS, they may be transferred to other posts, heavily criticised and reported for any minor incidents, have their views and wishes ignored and accused of being disloyal, bad coworkers, etc.

It’s bullying with menaces, reminiscent of incidents I have experienced myself, so I do have a lot of sympathy. “It’s always hard to prove that you have been victimised as an individual, but when a number of people are treated in a similar way it looks like a systemic response.”

Speaking about articles in this newspaper which have highlighted the fate of whistleblowers and the intimidation meted out to them, Sian Caiach said : “The Herald has recently exposed the Coastal project problem where workers were asked to alter time sheets , something which would allow European money to be used to support other clients who normally would be paid for out of the usual council budget. There is no doubt in my mind from the evidence I’ve seen that this happened and that the messengers were shot. The mystery, of course, is why it all happened; who decided to do it and why? The person who deserves reprimand is surely the one who had the bright idea to cook the books.

What we have ended up with is a situation where there has been a problem with a council project and the people who were uncomfortable with altering the records under orders are the ones who have paid the price.” Painting a bleak picture of the consequences of dealing with whistle blowers by aiding a cover up rather than addressing their concerns Sian Caiach said : “This matters, and not only because of the injustice and suffering caused to the whistleblowers. It is also a grave concern to taxpayers that managers of public services appear more concerned with covering up problems than solving them. How can we trust our public services to be open and transparent to the public if this is how they behave?

“Cllr Caiach concluded: “It may be human nature to disguise failure but when deception becomes almost institutional it is extremely worrying. If these actions are generated at middle management simply to hide their problems from the executive staff, the leaders of our public institutions are in the dark about what is really going on. If the senior management decides to aid the cover up it is the public and our Government who are being deceived. In either case, public sector workers are thoroughly discouraged from speaking out when things go wrong, and when that happens and we are all losers in the end.”

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Health

Those eligible for the Spring Covid-19 booster should get jabbed by end of June

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ALL those eligible for the Spring Covid-19 booster are being urged to take up their offer of the vaccine before the end of next month.

A deadline of 30 June has been introduced to ensure all those eligible for the spring booster will have a long-enough interval between this and the autumn 2022 booster, if they are also eligible.

An announcement by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) about which groups will be eligible for the autumn booster is due to be published shortly.

The JCVI has advised that people over-75, older care home residents and all those aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed are eligible for the spring booster.

Those who are 75 on or before 30 June, can get their booster at any point up to the deadline.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “It is important we continue our very high take up levels of the vaccine to help protect us against the risk of serious illness from Covid-19. I would urge everyone who is offered a spring booster vaccination takes up the invitation.”

If someone eligible for a spring booster has had a Covid infection recently, they will need to wait 28 days from the date they tested positive before they can be vaccinated. They will still be able to get vaccinated after 30 June as part of this campaign if they have to postpone their appointment.

All those eligible for spring boosters will be invited by their health board or GP.

It is not too late for anyone who needs a primary dose (first, second or third) to be vaccinated.

Please check for local arrangements.

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Health

Young people in Wales being failed when moving from child to adult mental health services

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MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES are failing young people when they move from child to adult services, says a mental health charity.

Mind Cymru is calling for Welsh Government to make urgent changes to improve the system.

Nia Evans, Children and Young People Manager at Mind Cymru, said: “Young people have told us that their needs, thoughts, and feelings about moving to adult services are often unheard, or ignored.

“Welsh Government must support Local Health Boards to make sure this doesn’t happen, change the way services are run and make sure our young people are being heard and properly cared for.”

Mind Cymru has published a report, in ate the result of interviews with young people about their experiences of moving from Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services – (SCAMHS) to AMHS.

They highlighted five key areas where services are failing young people:
– Poor information offered to young people, particularly on their rights
– Inconsistent use and follow through of care and treatment plans
– High thresholds for SCAMHS and AMHS referrals to be accepted
– Feeling abandoned / cut off from SCAMHS
– Age still dominates decision making process for moving from SCAMHS to AMHS

Nia Evans said: “Any one of these issues could make the process of moving from children’s services to adult services difficult for our young people. But often, more than one is happening at any one time.”

“Our young people have a right to care and support from a mental health system that has been put in place to help them recover. Action must be taken immediately to make sure support systems are robust and doing the job they were designed to do.”

Mind Cymru is asking people to email their Member of the Senedd (MS) and amplify the voices of these young people whose experiences are often unheard, and use the #SortTheSwitch hashtag on social media.

The full report is available here, including what a good move from SCAMHS to AMHS would look like for young people, and where the current system could improve.

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Business

Average UK price of diesel hits record of more than £1.80 a litre

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LESS than two months after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a 5p a litre cut on the average price of fuel – diesel prices have reached a record high price of 180.29p a litre.
The previous high of 179.90p was recorded on March 23rd 2022 – the day of the Spring Statement from Sunak.

In recent weeks, the UK government has tried to move away from its reliance on importing Russian oil, following President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Worryingly for drivers of petrol cars, the price per litre is fast approaching the record levels of 167.3p per litre set on March 22nd.

This latest price rise adds another challenge to UK households, as the cost of living crisis continues to impact families across the country.

RAC fuel spokesperson Simon Williams said: “Sadly, despite the Chancellor’s 5p a litre duty cut the average price of a litre of diesel has hit a new record high at 180.29p.”

“Efforts to move away from importing Russian diesel have led to a tightening of supply and pushed up the price retailers pay for diesel.”

“While the wholesale price has eased in the last few days this is likely to be temporary, especially if the EU agrees to ban imports of Russian oil.”

“Unfortunately, drivers with diesel vehicles need to brace themselves for yet more pain at the pumps. Had Mr Sunak reduced VAT to 15% as we call on him to do instead of cutting duty by 5p, drivers of diesel vehicles would be around 2p a litre better off, or £1 for every full tank.”

“As it is, drivers are still paying 27p VAT on petrol and 29p on diesel, which is just the same as before the Spring Statement.”

“The average price of petrol is also on the rise having gone up nearly 3p a litre since the start of the month to 166.65p which means it’s less than a penny away from the all-time high of 167.30p set on 22 March.”

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