What happened to Dr Kapur?
Last week I tried to find Dr Kapur. The Evening Standard came over all Morning Star and reported his case, a neuropsychologist who got sacked for whistleblowing that the NHS is failing in its duty of care by employing untrained people with no supervision. He was reinstated after what you can imagine was a mind altering employment tribunal but at the age of 75 Dr Kapur decided to go on hunger strike outside the Department of Health to raise awareness about the situation in Cambridge hospitals and what happens to NHS whistleblowers.
Having spent Tuesday at the British Medical Association and Patients First conference on whistleblowing I felt I should track him down on Whitehall. Just past Big Ben I realised my sadistic error in picking up some organic croissant on the way and was forced to break a dietary rule in place since moving to Belgium in the 1990s to not let pastry past my lips before midday.
Arrived at the DoH at 9am glowing with enthusiasm and calories, but Dr Kapur was nowhere to be seen. With images of an old man being dragged off by G4S I asked the 22 year old Whitehall receptionist where he had gone. Blank face, sigh, heavy turn of head and this sweet child asked her colleague where the “mentalist Ghandi” had gone.
Out of the mouths of babes.
What she may have been alluding to is the splitting that goes on when someone whistleblows. This split was very evident that day at the BMA, between professions and individuals on the sane/mad fault line. Often my experience of medical organisations is a profound reluctance to entertain the thought that mental health might be an unavoidable aspect of human health, for both patients and clinicians. For those of us working in mental health going into professional medical circles is a bit like looking through a Dickensian Christmas window. Beautiful, shiny and confident physicians talking about duty of care and professional standards while we’re holding out our professional bowl and asking “can I have a wage please?”.
Having slipped down the psychic evolutionary scale by midday I was feeling the rage, listening to witty reasoned argument as if logic is what’s at stake here. As anyone that has raised a concern within the NHS can tell you, whistleblowing involves a race against insanity not least because you are pretty much guaranteed to bullied, attacked and pushed to the brink by your own colleagues. Even the heroes of whistleblowing, and I mean that in its literal sense, admit that the impact on family and mental health is inhumane.
And then a service user came to my rescue. This was a woman who held an NHS trust board position on behalf of service users and was quite used to being accused of being mad. This, in the context of a bullying NHS, is an important life skill. And this is what she said:
“The problem with whistleblowing is that it tries to hide the fact that we all make mistakes, doctors and patients. If we could just be more realistic about people being faulty then we’d probably get more done to improve patient care.”
This then turned into one of those Matrix moments when you think “did I just hear the voice of the universe?”. Everything goes into slow motion, gravity is suspended and then we snap back into what we call reality and act as if nothing has just happened.
Blowing the whistle is a necessary function but ultimately a sign of defeat for everyone. It denies that mistakes happen and that we are all vulnerable to losing our minds in a workplace where bullying, harassment, bad wages and denial are rife.
If this speaks to you in any way and you’re interested in building your resilience at work think about joining us here.
And if anyone spots Dr Kapur give him a big squeeze from me.
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