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Rochford Files

Private Eye 1399 21 August 2015

An employment tribunal that will decide the fate of a whistle-blower who says vulnerable patients care was
put at risk by the utter chaos in a South London health department, is due to resume next month.

Bernie Rochford, who claims constructive dismissal, says she was bullied into ill-health and driven from her job
as a health commissioner after exposing many failures by Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG),
formerly Southwark Primary Care Trust. She says flawed IT systems and a lack of monitoring meant managers
had no idea how many patients they were funding, where or if those patients were receiving the right care or
even if they were still alive. According to Ms Rochford, as many as two thirds of those on the CCG database were
dead or could not be traced, while some of those who were not eligible for health care were on packages
costing up to 2,000 a week.

Rochford, a nurse with a degree in health science and qualifications in public sector and project management,
said the system at Southwark was an almost unbelievable mess: patients were lost or appeared in duplicate or
triplicate; records were outdated or missing; funding and care packages did not match; money was taken from
the wrong pot; there were regular data protection breaches with confidential patient information being sent to
the wrong people; and admin staff were making decisions about patients 24-hour care without clinical or
financial qualifications to do so.

In one case, a terminally ill patient died in hospital after an urgent fax requesting a care support package to
allow the patient to die at home was overlooked. A subsequent investigation found the fax had run out of paper
and that other patients urgent cases lay on the machine and had not been acted upon.

Ms Rochford said she found seriously alarming problems the moment in 2011 she took over responsibility for
commissioning continuing care for patients, including very sick children, teenagers with disabilities and elderly
people in care homes. She believed Southwark CCG was wasting huge sums of public money, but also found
hundreds of unpaid invoices, some dating back to 2007.

She lost a first employment alleging discrimination and bullying against Southwark last year but says that
without representation she was ill-equipped to fight the CCGs legal team. This time, though still fighting alone,
she says she is better prepared for her constructive dismissal claim. She says that despite an audit by KPMG in
2013 of the new system introduced by Southwark, she found that some of the issues she had first raised in 2011
such as patients not being reviewed and gaps in records were still a problem. She has since discovered that
documents in her case have been wrongly shredded and claims others have been altered.

Rochford tells the Eye that as a whistle-blower, failure in the regulatory system meant she had no choice but to
go to a tribunal to have her concerns aired. Her case is featured anonymously featured in Freedom to Speak Up,
the report on NHS whistleblowing by Sir Robert Francis QC, to demonstrate how complex the landscape is and
how difficult it can be for staff to be heard.

Her concerns were never flagged as a serious untoward incident, as she believes they should have been; but
then the CCGs appear to be a law unto themselves, with no one appointed to regulate their activities. Rochford
was bounced from pillar to post when she tried to raise her concerns outside Southwark. The Department of
Health thought they were a matter for the Care Quality Commission; CQC thought them an issue for NHS
England; NHS England suggested she try the whistleblowers helpline; and it in turn suggested she went back to
NHS England. Her correspondence shows the matter went through no fewer than 45 levels of management in
various health bodies.

Despite all the noises about protecting whistle-blowers, it remains a hugely disturbing and damaging process.
Says Ms Rochford. Southwark CCG does not dispute Rochford raised protected disclosures, or that there were
major problems. But it maintains it put matters right and denies Ms Rochford was driven out.