I started the day by signing on.
This was the first time I had done this for 25 years. I must admit I never expected to have to do it again.
It took me 90 minutes in all – it was a fairly dispiriting and humiliating experience. But there was one lighter moment when they did actually ask me if I was engaged in an industrial dispute! The chap apologised for not recognising me after I told him what had happened. There was no box on the form though to tell them that 150 colleagues were out on strike in support of freedom of speech.
Then I made a phone call to a Labour councillor in Manchester who I have known for years. He used to work in mental health and has been an active trade unionist himself.
I asked for his support and his public backing for the campaign. He told me that he had met with some colleagues last week and they had discussed my case. (I wish they had invited me so I could answer any of their questions!)
After their meeting they had apparently decided to restrict their comments to this: “Karen is still going through the official process so it is inappropriate for us to make any further comment.”
I was a bit gobsmacked to say the least. He said that I still had an appeal to go through – if I had a good case, then I would be reinstated!
He did not seem to appreciate or understand that I have already been through seven days of a disciplinary process where absolutely nothing to justify my sacking was produced in evidence against me. I was sacked, simply, on four charges – all of which related to me speaking out about the mental health service in Manchester.
He just did not get it. He didn’t even know the charges which were brought against me: –
- Bringing the Trust into “disrepute” by being interviewed for a magazine article in which I criticised the transfer of NHS care to the voluntary sector
- Speaking out and telling people that I had been suspended and exactly why
- Protesting my innocence publicly (presumably I should have done this privately)
- “Allowing” the press to print misleading articles about me
Another charge that “I may have misused time” was dropped.
My old trade unionst ‘friend’ kept repeating that if i had been accused of “speaking out” then clearly that was not a sackable offence. So I would be OK “within the process”. No need to worry.
He didn’t seem to realise that because I have been sacked, I now have no money to live on.
He didn’t seem to understand that my wages have been stopped.
I have had the heartbreaking task of phoning my 80-year-old mother – who was a nurse herself for more than 30 years – to break the news that her daughter has just been sacked from the job she loved.
Suddenly my professional identity has been stolen from me – I am no longer the community psychiatric nurse I have been for the last 25 years.
And I feel I have been forced to abandon my patients – the vulnerable people I have worked with and cared for over the years.
All of this seemed to come as something of a surprise to him. It was as if it hadn’t really happened.
I could not believe that this man, a Labour councillor and active trade unionist, expected me to put my trust and faith in a system and a “process” that has already failed me once and failed my patients.
This much respected “process” first suspended me because I expressed my views. Then this fantastically fair “process” sacked me on separate charges of speaking out about the state of the mental health service I work in.
How can a “process” that has then gone on to employ private investigators against me, use private HR services and been so unfair in its judgement, be trusted to suddenly become fair?
The councillor then tried to say that he and his colleagues were worried about the state of Manchester’s mental health services, that they were in the worst three per cent of trusts in the UK and that this is what they now most wanted to focus their attention on.
What does he think my campaign is fundamentally all about?
I am very glad that he is now concerned about the state of mental health services in Manchester. But where was he during the last 18 months when staff have been appealing at council meetings and scrutiny committees, lobbying and writing letters. We got no response then. Perhaps the councillor’s silence encouraged the Trust to think they could suspend and sack anyone who dared to raise their voice about what was happening?
My trust is a joint health and local authority provided service. Councillors therefore cannot avoid some responsibilty for the condition of mental health services in Manchester. It is up to them to try and put it right.
It is clear to anyone who examines this issue for a second, that I have been sacked precisely for speaking out and organising campaigns against the cuts in mental health services. Suddenly some councillors now start to become interested – perhaps that’s their way of avoiding dealing with my case?
As I got angrier, I asked my councillor ‘friend’ who he expected to speak out against cuts next time? Who would want to put themselves in my shoes?
He repeated: “If you have been sacked for speaking out, the ‘process’ will see you right even if that is eventually at an employment tribunal.” (He seemed to accept that I would lose any appeal and that I wouhld have to spend months taking my case to an employment tribunal.)
By this stage I was almost speechless with anger. I could not tell him that the day I was suspended, I got a letter promoting me to the highest nursing grade. So no complaints about my professionalism or dedication. Just that I wasn’t prepared to keep my mouth shut about the state of mental health services.
Public servants deserve better from a Labour-governed NHS and a Labour-controlled local council. We should not have to wait for justice from the courts! We expect Labour councillors to stand up for the principle of free speech, to protect whistleblowers and to uphold the principles of free trade unionism.
I don’t think I will be the only person who is disappointed with the cowardly fence-sitting of this particular Labour councillor.
But I am not going to keep quiet about the state of the service I care deeply about – and nor, thankfully, are lots of other people.