The Full 21 Ways To Skin A Whistleblower

Private Eye published, due to very restricted space, an edited version of our hymn to deviousness and destruction of medics with surgical or safety concerns in the NHS, our manual on how to silence a whistleblower.  Our original 21 methods had to be edited down to an abbreviated 16.  We were concerned about the full version becoming a “road map” for any NHS trust looking to silence or destroy an honest doctor, nurse or manager.  We didn’t want it to become a “how to make a bomb and place it under a doctor” manual.  It’s not for terrorists.  But we are now publishing the full 21 ways document below.  If we’ve missed any out, let us know.

Get The File.

21 Ways To Skin An NHS Whistleblower


Inflict sanctions on the whistleblower that are too subtle for the legal protection to operate, e.g. cuts in secretarial help and other budgets, blocking appointment to committees, “briefing against” informally.



Gather dirt on the whistleblower and inflict reprisals for actual or invented misdemeanours as the “official” reason for action taken against them. Trusts can either  trawl the whistleblower’s case load for errors (we’ve all made some) or just fabricate problems to discredit them.1 Allegations of mental illness are particularly common, and occasionally self-fulfilling as the whistleblower buckles under the stress.



Repeatedly ignore, deny or pretend to address the concerns in the hope whistleblowers will just give up. In Mid Staffs staff were wrongly blamed for not whistleblowing. In fact, there is evidence that hundreds of concerns were raised over a period of some years.[i] The problem was they were neither heard nor acted on.



Take or threaten reprisals against colleagues who have supported the whistleblower. Conveniently difficult to prove but another powerful means of intimidation to isolate the whistleblower.



Blackmail. Illegal but difficult to prevent, detect and punish.  There is one report of blackmail used against a whistleblower.[ii]



Threaten the whistleblower. All sorts of unpleasant threats are used against NHS whistleblowers, from you’ll never work again to you’ll never walk again.



Use counter-smears to redesignate genuine whistleblowing as an employment conflict. It can then be claimed that concerns raised are not genuine and that protected disclosure and the PIDA do not apply.



Exploit the lack of a professional code of conduct for managers. Doctors and nurses are bound by their professional bodies to raise concerns about patient safety, and whistleblowers are often accused of not raising concerns appropriately or soon enough, even when they have been bullied and threatened. However, managers can deny concerns and victimize whistleblowers with impunity, secure in the knowledge that the worst that will happen to them is that they may have to move onto another job. In contrast, whistleblowers are often seen as tarnished goods with poor references who often cannot find work elsewhere in the NHS



Once the NHS managers have turned it into an “employment” conflict, they can apply to the Treasury for a large sum of money to pay off the doctor.  Then pay off and gag the whistleblower using public money. The use of “compromise agreements” is widespread in the NHS, whereby whistleblowers ‘agree’ (under huge duress) to leave their jobs, in return for payment, and the signing of a gagging clause that prevents them telling their concerns to anyone outside their family.[iii] Gagging clauses are in clear contravention of Department of Health policy, but these agreements are still widely used, and are approved by the Treasury. Some proposed agreements require the whistleblower to sign a written statement to the effect that all of the concerns had been addressed, even if they clearly haven’t. This clever fraud contaminates the whistleblower and makes him or her part of the problem.



Instruct a libel lawyer to threaten any whistleblower and media outlet if concerns that could affect the business or reputation of the Trust are about to go public. This tactic has resulted in many stories being pulled and concerns buried within the Trust walls.



Use public money for weak research and lame management accountancy to refute the claims of the whistleblower or other unwelcome data such as high mortality rates.



Cosy up to the coroner to avoid unwelcome scrutiny of unexpected deaths.



Rely on the cowardice and apathy of the Department of Health. When the whistleblower approaches the DH asking for support, the department usually refuses to intervene, stating that the matter is an employment dispute and therefore a matter between employer and employee. Secretaries of State consistently refuse to meet whistleblowers citing this lame and self-protective excuse.



When you’ve gathered enough dirt and consulted enough lawyers, sack or suspend the whistleblower and, for good measure, publically humiliate him or her by getting security to march him or her out of the building.



Make vexatious complaints to a professional regulatory body such as the General Medical Council or the Healthcare Professions Council. It can be very difficult to prove that this is petty revenge for blowing the whistle. The GMC’s Duties of a Doctor is so vague as to allow vexatious complainants to concoct hundreds of complaints and the GMC – with its limited resources and leisurely time frame– takes years to wade through. This is extremely stressful for the whistleblower and his/her family.



Throw public money at the Employment Tribunal, knowing the system is biased against the whistleblower. Trade unions such as the BMA rarely arrange prompt or adequate legal support for their members, who are usually tribunal  novices, whereas NHS Trusts are “frequent flyers” who have the resources to instruct expensive lawyers. The cost of paying compensation to an employee who wins at a tribunal may be viewed as “worth it” if a troublemaker has been removed. The employee may be saddled with crippling legal bills even if he/she ‘wins’



If the Trust loses the Employment Tribunal – or indeed any legal ruling –  it can keep appealing, using public money, until the whistleblower is bankrupt. .



Arrange an ‘in house’ investigation. Protected disclosures under PIDA are usually  anything but, because they are not independently investigated. Often there is just a sham internal investigation instigated by the Trust’s own managers who are clearly not impartial and may be implicated by the ‘protected’ disclosures.



If the press and public insist on an external investigation, the Trust can still organize and pay for it, recruit the panel, agree the terms of reference, hold the inquiry in secret and control how much – if any- of the report reaches the public domain.



Don’t fear Public Inquiries. They’re increasingly pointless and very expensive exercises in grief management that seldom change anything. And they occur so long after the damage has been done, when many of those in the dock have moved on.



Peddle the illusion that the Public Interest Disclosure Act offers adequate protection for whistleblowers. It doesn’t. Criminal sanctions should be enforced against individuals and NHS bodies for the victimization of whistleblowers and the corporate manslaughter of patients who are harmed or who die as a result of the failure to act on the whistleblowers concerns.


[i] House of Commons Health Committee, Transcript of Uncorrected Evidence, 3 June 2009. At Accessed 29 December 2010.

[ii] S. Boggan, ‘It was like a gangster movie – they were trying to blackmail me,’ The Times, 28 August 2010.


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4 Responses to The Full 21 Ways To Skin A Whistleblower

  1. Jaika Witana says:

    I can relate to this ….

    The Times, 28 August 2010.
    S. Boggan: ‘It was like a gangster movie – they were trying to blackmail me,’

    The whistleblowing process is at fault. NHS organisations lack the culture and transparency to investigate concerns of wrongdoing, and concerns about care and safety of patients. Internal investigations by NHS organisations are all Kangaroo courts. Even organisations such as the BMA, CQC and Monitor are in function “less than ideal” in all aspects.

    “Investigations of concerns” done internally invariably leaves the whistleblower vulnerable.

    There are too many internal steps before the external stages could be exercised by which time many internal people are involved, many of whom have an interest in the outcome and it makes life difficult for the individual, who raised the concern.

    It must be understood that one cannot often whistleblow without offending others and offending the NHS organisation (Trust PCT or GP Practice) as a whole. It is quite common for the Senior Managers of the organisation to turn on the whistleblower and commence a long drawn out intimidation resorting to the “skinning techniques”. Therefore at an early stage the whistleblowing need to be brought into the attention of an ombudsman / external organisation. Monitor and CQC should be joined up (they don’t fit the purpose) and a single person (of judicial background) should be appointed to the post of a Whistleblowing ombudsman.

    The victim in cases of whistleblowing is not only the whistleblower. The patients are often forgotten in the equation when battle lines invariably get drawn out. One should never forget “it is patients … Patients First !”

    • Russell Dunkeld says:

      I strongly agree Jaika. The following formed part of my submission, based on personal experience, to the DoH (so-called) public consultation on whistleblowing in 2011. There was an extremely poor response from individuals due to absence of publicity, so results were skewed in favour of Trust bosses who formed the majority of respondents.
      On Whistleblowing: “Such reports, by their nature, imply criticism of existing arrangements or practices and touch upon matters likely to offend professional and personal sensitivities. They understandably cause great anxiety to those who feel obliged to make them. They can contain valuable evidence, offered by a concerned and committed witness, informed and heavily involved, in the sincere conviction that action ought to be taken. This evidence will almost certainly be based upon a reasonably-held belief that one, or more, of the serious categories of wrong-doing is involved. It will be worth a bushel of blue-sky management statements of the “all things bright & beautiful” variety. A report of this kind deserves the most earnest and attentive professional handling by trained and experienced authority. There do exist such pressures, in a challenging career, as will bring some, out of self-interest, incompetence, complacency, or misplaced confidentiality, as well as for even less-admirable motives, to desire the suppression of this information. If we are not to permit concealment, the security of that report and the means of its communication to a truly independent pro-active recipient should be the very highest priority. Positive results from responsible reporting will then become the most certain way of raising the profile of Whistleblowing.”
      I’m afraid that the changes to NHS Constitution did not reflect my opinion.

  2. Chris says:

    More usefully – how about a whistle blower’s handbook so that instead of each whistle blower being a first-timer, they can easily pick up ‘frequent flyer’ tips. I suspect there are a few things you should do before you blow the whistle.

    I can’t believe the decision is a sudden one; the concerned practitioner should start the self protection exercise as soon as the concern arises real.

  3. Russell Dunkeld says:

    No.22: Hold a Grievance Hearing. Admit and apologise for the Trust failures. This puts the whistleblower off-guard, thinking (s)he has won. Ask the whistleblower to allow time to explore the possibility of a less-stressful work area, or other tempting alternative. If the whistleblower agrees, do not take the search seriously. You have won. By accepting your offer, the whistleblower will be deemed to have “accepted the former breaches” and “continued the terms of employment”, at the very moment that (s)he imagined that (s)he was agreeing to change the terms of employment. A Tribunal cannot now hear complaint concerning those former breaches.

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