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Audit office threatens to sack man who spoke out.

Byline: Martin Shipton

A "WHISTLEBLOWER" has been threatened with dismissal by the Wales Audit Office after raising concerns with the Western Mail.

Andrew Hurley, a pounds 54,000-a-year IT specialist employed by the WAO, said he had been sent on gardening leave the day before he was due to start an investigation into concerns the NHS body Health Solutions Wales may have been breaching protocols relating to patient confidential information. Health Solutions Wales is part of Velindre NHS Trust.

Mr Hurley was abruptly sent on gardening leave in October 2005 andhas not returned to worksince. He says he has suffered severe stress and is now seeking early retirement on ill health grounds.

He said, "Upon the receipt of a letter from the Wales Audit Office I was perturbed and upset as the letter closed with the following statement which I consider threatening: 'In any event I wish to arrange a meeting with you to discuss your recent contact with the Western Mail and the article entitled 'Audit worker speaks out over two years gardening leave' which appeared in the newspaper on January 9. We believe this may constitute a gross misconduct offence and will be writing to you separately in this regard'."

In employment law, "gross misconduct" can lead to instant dismissal.

Mr Hurley said this was contrary to their own published best practice guidelines and the Public Disclosure Act 1998. These suggest disclosures are protected if the whistleblower believed they would be victimised by raising the matter internally, believed a coverup was likely, and had raised the matter internally.

"I had satisfied all preconditions," he added. "The WAO has had two years to review the issue of release of patient identifiable data. Once again I also received a negative response to my request for injury benefit via the Civil Service Pension Scheme. The WAO's refusal to pursue this on my behalf is based upon the fact I amnot a civil servant, even though the Civil Service Pension Scheme administrator has informed the WAO and myself that as a Civil Service Premium Pension Scheme member I am eligible to apply."

A spokeswoman for the Wales Audit Office said, "On the face of it, Mr Hurley may have breached confidentiality, which is contrary to our staff code of conduct and the Public Audit Wales Act. We have not arrived at any conclusions, but this issue needs to be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. Contrary to the assertions made by Andrew Hurley, it is not the case that the WAO has failed to act on the concerns expressed to Mr Hurley by a member of staff of Swansea NHS Trust. In fact, another IT audit specialist within the WAO undertook a detailed review of those concerns, as part of a wider review of information governance within HSW. The final report that resulted from that review was provided to Velindre NHS Trust in June 2006 and has been considered in detail by its audit committee in accordance with the usual arrangements.

"In respect of the specific concerns disclosed to the Western Mail by Mr Hurley, the results of the WAO review were wholly satisfactory in demonstrating appropriate information governance controls were in place in Velindre NHS Trust and in its arrangements to safeguard the confidentiality of data transmitted between HSW and Welsh NHS Trusts."

The spokeswoman said the audit report had been sent to Velindre NHS Trust, but not Swasea NHS Trust, which first raised the concerns. The report, dated June 2006, released by Velindre NHS Trust to the Western Mail, concluded, "actions remain that need to be completed (by the Trust) before full compliance (with the Data Protection Act and other laws) is obtained."

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WHISTLEBLOWER Andrew Hurley fears he is being threatened with dismissal Picture: Andrew James
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 28, 2008
Words:627
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