Line manager ‘interrogated’ mental health specialist in ‘aggressive’ manner, tribunal hears

A psychiatric nurse has taken an NHS trust to court over claims she was bullied after blowing the whistle on IT systems failures.

Stacey Richardson alleged that the Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust treated her badly after she raised concerns that patients were being put at risk and their confidentiality could be breached by staff sharing login details.

Richardson joined the trust in 2013 as a learning disability nurse, but was working as a mental health liaison nurse in the A&E department at Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital at the time the incident that sparked her concerns took place.

Richardson recalled how, when working with a second nurse to assess a patient in March 2016, the nurse could not log into the IT system to complete her report. Richardson agreed to let her use her login details but flagged the issue with her line manager, Joanne Sharp, the following day.

“I said I was really concerned that I had to allow someone to use my login to complete a report because the IT system had failed,” Richardson told the tribunal at North Shields County Court. “I was concerned that a member of staff couldn’t access patient information. That puts the patient at risk because we are not able to assess them properly.

“I felt I was being compromised and patient confidentiality was being compromised.”

Following this, the nurse claimed she was subject to numerous punishments, including being “humiliated” during a meeting with her line manager, having her holiday requests turned down and being threatened with disciplinary action if she raised any more issues.

At a supervisory meeting between the two women a fortnight later, Sharp locked the door to the room, claiming she had been interrupted during an earlier meeting.

However, Richardson said her line manager went on to “interrogate” her, “becoming more and more aggressive”. She eventually reported the meeting to the police, according to Chronicle Live.

When asked why she did not walk out of the meeting, Richardson said: “I felt paralysed and humiliated. I was physically traumatised.

“It was implied that if I raised any more issues I would be going down the disciplinary route.”

Yunus Baksh, representing Richardson, told the tribunal his client was being punished for “being the first employee not to just ‘put up and shut up’ with the faulty IT system”.

Richardson claimed the practice of sharing login details was widespread, although the trust denied this and the other allegations brought by the nurse.

Of the meeting between Sharp and Richardson, Sharp said during her evidence: “It was never my intention to make anyone feel uncomfortable.”

Meanwhile, manager Julie Green said the trust “never made a secret” of the IT issues and, in June 2015, she had herself made an entry in the risk register stating that systems outages were creating “significant challenges” for hospital staff.

Green added that there was a period of transition as staff moved to the new hospital and the IT issues had now been “largely resolved”.

A decision in the case has not yet been delivered.