Charity unfairly dismissed mental health nurse after discovering whistleblowing history

An employment tribunal ruled against St Andrew's Healthcare for dismissing Noel Finn from his role at a Northamptonshire facility in 2017

A major care charity unfairly dismissed a mental health nurse after discovering he had acted as a whistleblower at previous employers, an employment tribunal has found.

Noel Finn was dismissed from his role at St Andrew’s Healthcare’s facility in Northamptonshire in 2017 after the charity discovered he had played a role in exposing separate scandals at an immigration detention centre and on a government assessment programme, where he went undercover for a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary.

The charity argued that Finn had been suspended and later dismissed three weeks after starting work at the charity because he had failed to disclose his previous whistleblowing and undercover work, but Finn claimed he had been dismissed because the charity was afraid he might make fresh whistleblowing disclosures about issues he found at St Andrew’s.

According to court documents released last week, the Bury St Edmunds employment tribunal ruled that he had been unfairly dismissed.

The amount of compensation the charity will have to pay will be decided at a remedy hearing in the coming months.

Between 2006 and 2009, Finn worked for Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, where he raised official concerns about inadequate staffing and facilities that were not fit for purpose, the judgment said.

Later, he worked for Serco, which runs the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre, and between October 2012 and April 2013 he revealed that detainees, who included former torture victims, were not receiving sufficient mental healthcare.

Then in 2017, while working for Capita, Finn took part in undercover filming for Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary programme, which revealed that nurses carrying out assessments for personal independence payments disability benefits were rushing and making mistakes.

He was offered a job with St Andrew’s Healthcare in February 2017 and, during a week-long induction, raised concerns with trainers that other people on the course were cheating on the e-learning modules.

He also complained on his first day of work that his keys to the secure facility were faulty and was told that it was common problem, according to the judgment.

Two weeks into his role, he made a mistake with a patient’s medication and emailed a colleague owning up to it, but added that he felt problems with the IT system to access patient records and low staffing levels had contributed to the mistake.

Emails disclosed to the tribunal revealed that senior members of staff had become aware of Finn’s history of whistleblowing and were concerned he had been "asking lots of questions.

The emails revealed that two managers who met Finn on 22 March had written a script for the meeting, which the judges said seemed to "suggest it had already been decided that Mr Finn should be suspended".

He was suspended and left the meeting with tears in his eyes, according to the court papers.

Judge Martin Warren concluded: "We can see in the email chain they are looking for justification to treat [the lack of full disclosure] as some kind of serious misconduct. One gains the impression that they are searching for justification to suspend Mr Finn."

Finn was eventually dismissed in June, according to the papers.

The judge criticised "the paucity of the investigation and the inadequacy of the reasons for dismissal offered by the respondent" in the ruling, judging that Finn’s dismissal was unfair.

A St Andrew’s spokeswoman told Third Sector that after the judgment the charity had "taken significant steps to ensure all our staff feel confident in raising concerns" and was focusing on changing the culture of the organisation to ensure "staff understand that raising concerns carries no detriment".

She said the charity had also appointed four staff to support whistleblowers.

Third Sector was unable to contact Finn for comment.

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