Facebook whistleblower faces ban
Monday 30th September 2013, 4:30PM BST.
A whistleblower who chose to raise his concerns via Facebook rather than going through the proper channels could be banned from working in the medical profession.
Senior nurse Colin Stewart Toseland warned that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales was “disorganised” some five years before watchdogs published a report highlighting significant failings.
It was claimed Mr Toseland had written a damning report in a nursing magazine detailing a shortage of beds and lack of staff at the organisation’s flagship Ysbyty Glan Clwyd Hospital, Denbighshire, back in 2008.
Two years later he then launched a fresh attack via his Facebook profile – saying wards at the hospital were unsafe.
Earlier this year, the health board was heavily criticised by The Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) and the Wales Audit Office (WAO) for under-reporting infections, which they said had risked patients’ safety.
Following the publication of the Nursing Times article and his Facebook posts, Mr Toseland found himself the subject of a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Fitness to Practise hearing.
A three-person panel found the registrant’s misconduct had been proven and his fitness to practise had been impaired.
However, the independent body is yet to decide on what punishment to hand out to Mr Toseland.
Sanctions at their disposal include a suspension as well as striking his name off the medical register.
Representing the NMC, Miranda Stotesbury said registrants were well within their rights to blow the whistle when they had concerns.
However, she said these should be done via the the proper channels – and that Mr Toseland’s decision to vent his spleen on Facebook risked undermining the public’s confidence in the nursing profession.
“The issue of whistleblowing has been well documented in the media,” said Ms Stotesbury.
“But there were plenty of mechanisms in place for the registrant to raise any concerns that he had.
“As a senior nurse he would have known this.
“He did not escalate his concerns through the proper and appropriate channels.”
According to NMC documents, Mr Toseland had written an article in the Nursing Times in April 2008 which said Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and its flagship hospital Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Denbigshire, north Wales, were “disorganised”.
The article expressed concern about a shortage of beds, a lack of staff as well as making allegations the hospital was failing to meet a four-hour target for getting patients from the Accident and Emergency department to a ward.
Two years later, the panel was told the registrant then criticised his employers on his Facebook profile.
Posts in February 2010 included details about wards being unsafe and there being asbestos in surgical theatres at the hospital.
Although the health board carried out an asbestos removal programme, Mr Toseland still wrote to hospital chiefs admitting his conduct had been “unacceptable”.
But six months later, he used the site again to admonish his employers – this time for not supporting workers properly and also saying there was not enough money to pay nurses’ wages before “threatening” to go public.
An NMC panel decided to throw out the Nursing Times allegations at a hearing last year.
However, today it resumed proceedings into the Facebook comments at a hearing in Cardiff – which Mr Toseland, of Colwyn Bay, did not attend.
Case presenter Ms Stotesbury said the NMC had clear guidelines about how members should use social network sites – something the registrant should have been well aware of.
“Facebook should not be used for raising and escalating concerns,” she told the panel.
Ms Stotesbury also said while Mr Toseland was “clinically” a good nurse, she argued there was a strong case of misconduct being proven.
She added: “By not raising his concerns in the proper way the registrant has damaged the reputation of the profession. And the public may lose faith in the nursing profession if no action was taken.”
The panel, headed by chairwoman Tessa King, were also told that Mr Toseland had admitted via a letter last year that he should not have posted the remarks on Facebook.
Ms King said she was satisfied misconduct had been proven.
“The public expects nurses to be accountable for their acts or omissions,” she added.
“He deliberately raised potentially serious concerns through a social network site website despite knowing this was not appropriate.
“Mr Toseland has shown insufficient insight to demonstrate he has addressed shortcomings.
“By posting comments on Facebook saying that wards were unsafe and patients were at risk, he would have potentially caused concern to patients and their families.”
Earlier this year, independent watchdogs HIW and WAO expressed concern about the way Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was being run.
In their report, a big gap was identified between management and what was happening on the wards.
It was also said the health board was in “an extremely difficult position” because the working relationship between chairman Merfyn Jones and chief executive Mary Burrows had broken down – and therefore had compromised the organisation.
Following the publication of the reports, Prof Jones and Ms Burrows both stepped down.
A WAO spokeswoman said the reports had not been prompted by a single individual’s actions, but was a collaboration between the two group’s regular and ongoing research.
But while the health board has tried to move on from the matter, criticisms about its rates of Clostridium difficile still continue to remain.
The bacterial infection usually affects the digestive system and symptoms include diarrhoea, fever and abdominal pain. It can cause life threatening complications such as severe swelling of the bowel.
According to reports, in January to May this year there were 96 cases of C. diff at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd – which saw 30 patients die while suffering with the infection.
North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd said he wanted police to examine how the health board responded to warnings about the killer bug.
He said: “It is time to consider whether there might be a case to answer in terms of corporate manslaughter. Thirty people have died with C. diff in Glan Clwyd alone.
“If that doesn’t merit a serious look at this then nothing does.”
Proceedings in Mr Toseland’s case are expected to resume tomorrow.