FTs are beyond control of NHS England

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Sir David Nicholson 1 A legal review of the ‘whistleblower’ situation has concluded that NHS England has no legal power to direct Foundation Trusts (FTs).

The review followed NHS Chief Executive Sir David Nicholson’s promise that he would intervene if NHS organisations failed to protect whistleblowers.

Like Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s promise to sack FT leaders who neglect patient safety, the promise overstated his powers under the Health and Social Care Act.

In February, Nicholson was asked by the Commons Health Committee what he would do about trusts that did not support whistleblowers.

He replied: “Wherever I see it or if I have a whiff of it, I immediately intervene in the organisations themselves to tell them what their responsibilities are.”

However, Nicholson later warned a doctor who had been forced to sign a gagging agreement regarding the treatment of dementia patients in a hospital that he could not intervene.

Lawyers had determined that the Department of Health has no legal authority over FTs, he said.

All NHS trusts have to become FTs by April 2014, and they will then not be subject to any control by NHS England or the Department of Health.

A spokesperson for NHS England commented that Nicholson was able to raise relevant issues with the Care Quality Commission, which can take steps to protect patient safety.