Lancaster whistleblower surgeon lifts lid on post-NHS life on the Isle of Man

A Lancaster surgeon who blew the whistle on allegations of medical negligence within the NHS has spoken about his new life on the Isle of Man during a worldwide pandemic.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 7:00 am
Peter Duffy pictured during his trip back home with wife Fiona and sons William, Rob and Ed.

Consultant urologist Peter Duffy spoke to Guardian reporter Gayle Rouncivell during a rare trip back to Lancaster to see his family.

The 58-year-old father-of-three was forced to move away from his family and friends to find work after feeling shunned by the NHS in England following an employment tribunal.

He now works at Noble's Hospital on the Isle of Man, which has a separate health system from the UK, where he says they welcomed him and supported the decisions he made while working at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.

Peter Duffy.

We reported two years ago how Mr Duffy was left feeling sick at the sight of the NHS logo after being awarded a £102,000 payout by an employment tribunal.

He said a 10-year campaign against him left him ill and feeling unable to work in the NHS again.

Mr Duffy said his professional career was left in tatters after speaking out about allegations of medical negligence.

He was labelled racist by colleagues after he raised concerns to the Care Quality Commission about alleged medical malpractice at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

In a statement to the tribunal, Mr Duffy claimed to have witnessed a series of errors including several missed cancers.

A year later, he published a book about his 35 years in the NHS.

Mr Duffy has been living on the Isle of Man for the last four years, where strict lockdown regulations - the island has its own government - have meant he has only just been able to visit home for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March.

Mr Duffy was given special dispensation by the Manx government to leave the island for a two-week holiday in Lancaster, where his wife Fiona and three sons still live.

He has enjoyed a precious fortnight catching up with his family.

Eldest son Edward is about to start his fifth of six years studying medicine in London, and has been working on the Covid-19 frontline at the Royal Free Hospital.

Middle son Robert is about to begin his second year at the University of Central Lancashire studying policing and criminal investigation, while youngest son William is due to start a degree in medicine at Aberdeen.

Mr Duffy said it was a strange feeling returning to England after so long away - and noticed much that is different about current life.

He said: "The ferries are operating but with a changed timetable, so I flew back to Manchester with Loganair.

"It was quite difficult coming off the flight to see people wearing masks and keeping their distance.

"I haven't been to pubs or restaurants while I am here, we have not had anybody in the house and I am sticking to close family and friends.

"Originally I was coming home every other weekend but obviously I couldn't do that during the pandemic, so it has been a long time - the cat didn't recognise me!

"At the moment I am thinking I will not be back again until Christmas.

"We can't easily get on and off the island, we are free to go, but you are not allowed to come back without serious restrictions.

"You have to self-isolate rigorously for two weeks on return and they are being really strict on that.

"For essential workers there are compromises, and I will have a swab done on my return and then isolate until the result is back, and then if it's safe I can go to work in full PPE for two weeks.

"There is no going to the shops or for a walk or seeing friends, but luckily two close colleagues have said they will do my shopping for me.

"I am not looking forward to doing the self-isolation but it's been more than worth it to come home for two weeks."

The Isle of Man, which has around 85,000 residents, saw a total of 336 confirmed cases, of which 24 died - 20 of those connected to a single nursing home.

Its strict lockdown rules were lifted in early June, and life has returned to normal, although there are still restrictions on visitors to the island, except for an agreed 'air bridge' with Guernsey, which is also Covid-free.

"We have not had any positive cases on the Isle of Man for about 90 days now, so all the restrictions have been lifted," Mr Duffy said.

"There is no social distancing or masks being worn, you can shake hands, life is normal there.

"There's now a feeling among some people of keeping the island self-sufficient but others with family in England say the borders need to open and to get back to normal.

"At one point it got up to 30 new cases a day but it has gradually dwindled away. I think the Isle of Man government and the hospital handled it very well.

"Although we locked down at a similar time as England there wasn't the prevalence that there was in England.

"We set up a 111 emergency number very quickly to diagnose and isolate cases and we had a very good contact service.

"I got a call myself after seeing a patient in clinic 20 days earlier who had tested positive. They were very rigorous in following people up; that was the secret really - enforcing and social distancing."

Despite now working under a different health service, Mr Duffy is unable to escape the constant reminders of his ordeal at the hands of the NHS.

He is now the subject of another inquiry, after NHS England/Improvement asked Niche Health and Social Care Consulting to carry out an independent investigation into the allegations. This is due to be completed by early 2021.

The Solicitors' Regulatory Authority have also taken an interest in how the process was carried out with regard to the treatment of NHS whistleblowers at employment tribunals.

"I certainly wasn't happy with the way it went," Mr Duffy said. "It's not the right place for whistleblowing cases to be heard."

Whistleblowing advice charity Protect is also interested in Mr Duffy's case, and claims the Public Interest Disclosure Act is outdated for such cases.

"When the act first came out it was probably well-meaning but it hasn't moved on and the way the system works you have to go into the witness box first," Mr Duffy said.

"The trust has access to all of your records and they will try to break you down and discredit you.

"I could have been liable for £108,000 in costs if I had lost - nothing has ever come close to that in terms of stress levels.

"I just cannot conceive of working in the NHS again, coming back into an organisation that would put me and my family through that.

"NHS whistleblowers are so vulnerable because the NHS are a monopoly and if you lose a job with them you are essentially out of work for the foreseeable future.

"I had applied for a lot of locum jobs around the country and I didn't hear from any of them. I just couldn't get any work. I don't know if I had been blacklisted.

"I was seriously looking at jobs in the Middle East and Australia. Financially we were going under when I got the [Isle of Man] job offer.

"It makes you realise how privileged you are as an NHS employee."

Mr Duffy first took a job on the island as bank staff at Christmas 2016 and then converted to a locum contract, before being offered a permanent contract in summer 2017.

He now expects to remain there until he retires in around six years' time.

"Although I’m desperately upset to be separated from family and friends, I am very comfortable on the Isle of Man with the work that I do there," he said.

"They said they were happy that I had spoken out and they didn't see it as a bad thing. It was a refreshing difference.

"The patients I have spoken to have all been supportive.

"As a career I could not see myself doing anything else, despite what I had to do. I still enjoy doing what I do.

"I would do medicine again without hesitation. It's a great career - it's just the politics that comes with it, and it's just a shame the NHS sometimes puts its reputation ahead of honesty and candour."