This week, we’re looking at whistleblowing in the context of the Tavistock and Portman NHS trust – mostly known for its Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), which aims to assist those experiencing gender dysphoria.

Lately, the GIDS has been fraught with bad publicity. In 2019, one of its board members – a senior psychiatrist – published a scathing review into its practices. Today’s case is the latest in a series of exposés about its controversial practices. It also offers a practical employment law insight.

The Claimant is Sonia Appleby – a psychotherapist and social worker – who was employed by the trust as their safeguarding lead for children.

GIDS staff repeatedly aired concerns with her. This led the service to institute a more formal procedure by where GIDS staff would first raise their concerns internally, for them to be fed back to the Claimant (who was safeguarding lead for children for the whole of the trust’s business – not just the GIDS).

Despite apparent good intentions, the Claimant was persistently viewed with hostility by GIDS staff. This reached its apex after the abovementioned psychiatrist mentioned the Claimant as a co-author of his review (a role the Claimant felt was exaggerated). This confirmed to GIDS staff she wasn’t ‘on side’ with the doubtless controversial practices of the service – which included hasty prescription of ‘puberty blockers’; perhaps too-readily concluding children were ‘trans’; and disregarding alternative explanations such as that children had a tumultuous family life or were autistic or homosexual.

What was the Claim?

Her claim was a whistleblowing detriment; the Claimant remains employed by the Respondent.

What was the Whistleblow?

The Claimant made a number of disclosures, generally to senior GIDS staff, re-iterating the concerns of junior staff that tended to show that the health or safety of individuals (namely, GIDS service users) was at risk.

What was the Detriment?

The first detriment was being subjected to a quasi-disciplinary for saying that staff ought to be careful to avoid another ‘Jimmy Saville type situation’. The Claimant maintains she meant that safeguarding was essential to avoid another Jimmy Saville type situation, whereas some of her colleagues believed she was insinuating the GIDS was abusing children. The tribunal took the view that this action by the Respondent was because she made protected disclosures.

The second detriment was the Respondent telling its staff not to report safeguarding concerns to the Claimant (which the Claimant only found out during litigation), which demonstrates the Respondent’s distrust of her. The tribunal attributed this to her protected disclosures.

The tribunal decided the above two detriments had a serious effect on the Claimant’s reputation and mental health and awarded her an award for injury to feelings of £20,000.

Takeaway Point

The takeaway point, apart from revealing the toxic culture of the GIDS, is to never reprimand a member of staff for doing their job. This may sound obvious, but whistleblowing (and indeed health and safety) claims are easily founded when an employee is punished for expressing reasonable concerns about, for example, health and safety, or breach of legal obligations.

Consider why the employee is raising concerns of a public interest nature: candidly or spitefully? The former is likely to attract liability in the event of a detriment where the latter is not.