John Howard Centre whistleblower says he’s been blacklisted after speaking out on NHS ‘bullying culture’

Mark Clewes with his huge stack of documents. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Mark Clewes with his huge stack of documents. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Mark Clewes has just found out he won’t succeed in his employment tribunal against his old employers, an NHS trust. He told the Gazette he was driven out of the John Howard Centre for raising concerns about mismanagement.

John Howard Centre in Hackney

John Howard Centre in Hackney - Credit: Archant

A former outreach nurse at the John Howard Centre has lifted the lid on an alleged “bullying culture” within the NHS Trust that runs the secure unit in Homerton.

Mark Clewes has gone from being paid £80,000 a year to signing on in the space of five years. He says he’s been blacklisted after being sacked by the East London Foundation Trust (ELFT) in 2014 for gross misconduct, after being caught working at another trust while on sick leave.

He says he was driven out after whistleblowing three times in 2010, 2011 and 2013 – when the centre hit the headlines over several dangerous patients absconding. One of those, Lerone Boye, was a convicted murderer who in 2013 spent three months on the run.

The ELFT has denied Mark’s claims, and says it has a very robust whistleblowing policy. A spokesman said: “We take all claims of whistleblowing or concerns relating to work very seriously. We look to our staff to raise any concerns about safety and our standards of care so that they can be resolved swiftly.

Mark Clewes with his huge stack of documents. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Mark Clewes with his huge stack of documents. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

“Mr Clewes raised concerns which were taken seriously and fully investigated. He was dismissed for misconduct and subsequently brought an tribunal claim against the trust, which was unsuccessful.

“He lodged a Notice of Appeal, which has been confirmed by the tribunal to have little or no reasonable prospect of success.”

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Mark says he raised concerns with senior bosses about staff, including himself, being “bullied out of their posts” after raising concerns about clinical and managerial decisions within the Millfields Unit at the centre.

On one occasion in 2010 Mark says he was assaulted by a patient who had been referred to the intensive care unit because of his dangerous behaviour – but was still being allowed out on escorted community leave.

“They were taking him down the shops, it was absolutely ridiculous,” Mark said. “It’s fortunate he hit me rather than someone in the shop.”

Another high-profile incident occurred when a patient absconded while on compassionate leave in Norwich, despite the fact Mark had raised concerns about him being allowed to return home.

He references other instances where patients would simply approach staff and ask to be let out on leave, only to have their wish granted.

“The patients were running things,” he said. “Staff were scared, it’d been going on for years. And there was just a culture of people not checking things. If a patient says something you believe it.

“When they get out they just f*** off.”

In January Mark, 50, lost an employment tribunal, but at the hearing ex-colleagues, high-ranking medical professionals, gave evidence of the “bullying” they too had suffered.

One said he was the victim of a “systematic campaign of workplace bullying”, and, along with others, was forced out. He said it was “not possible” for senior execs to be unaware of the problem.

Another ex worker said in evidence: “The reason for my resignation from my post was bullying and harassment and the detriment this was having on my physical and psychological well-being and negative impact on my career and family.”

Mark first raised concerns in 2010. He said he had been tasked with investigating why a nurse had bought a large knife into the unit, as well as an incident in which medication was withheld from a patient.

But he said his findings of staff collusion and mismanagement were swept under the carpet by bosses, and shortly after he was told his post was being deleted.

But rather than being made redundant, which he says would have cost the trust more than £100,000, Mark says he was sat in an office doing nothing for four months – while being paid £1,000 a week.

He was then moved to a post at Goodmayes Hospital in Redbridge, which he said was a post that warranted “10 hours of work a week”. He remained “sidelined” until he was dismissed in 2014.

On his decision to publicise what happened, Mark said: “While the NHS saves lives, it can also destroy them. I have worked in the NHS for 30 years and vast amounts of resources are consumed trumpeting successes and concealing failings, it has become an industry.

“Individuals brave or stupid enough to speak up will be subjected to devasting life changing consequences and the public need to be aware of this and speak out against this.

“We are all stakeholders in the NHS and we will never know when either we or our loved ones will need it”.