A WHISTLEBLOWER nurse who was sacked after warning that the workload on NHS staff had led to a patient’s death has won an unfair dismissal claim.

Linda Fairhall, who was an NHS nurse for 38 years, had an “unblemished” record at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust but was suspended, and later sacked, in 2016 after she raised concerns about patient safety.

She started working with the NHS in 1979 and had been overseeing a team of about 50 district nurses in Hartlepool when she was suspended.

Ms Fairhall has now successfully challenged her employer's decision to dismiss her.

Lawyers from the company Thrive, who were acting for her, said: "The impact of the trust’s conduct had on Ms Fairhall is profound.

"She no longer is able to work and has lost her career as a nurse. This all arose from her trying to protect patient and staff safety and reporting genuine concerns she had."

"This is a stark reminder for organisations, whether in the private or public sector, to take whistleblowing complaints seriously and to act on them promptly and most importantly not to punish those who whistleblow."

A spokesperson for the NHS trust said it was appealing the decision.

Ms Fairhall first raised concerns in 2015, when she said change in policy, requiring district nurses to monitor patients' prescriptions, meant about 1,000 extra visits a month for the service with no extra resources.

Over the next 10 months, she reported 13 matters alleging that that the health or safety of patients and staff was being or was likely to be put at risk and voices concerns about workload, employee stress and sickness, as well as risk to patients.

The death of a patient on October 4, 2016, prompted a meeting where Mrs Fairhall expressed the view that it may have been prevented, had her earlier concerns been addressed.

During the meeting, Ms Fairhall said nurses were “unable to function” in their roles as a result of a decrease in staff numbers.

Later that month, she told the trust’s care group director Julie Parks that she wished to instigate the formal whistle-blowing procedure.

After returning from annual leave on October 31, 2016, she was informed she was being suspended to allow an investigation to take place following allegations of gross misconduct relating to concerns about her leadership.

She was suspended for 18 months before being sacked in April 2018.

The tribunal found the trust's investigation into her alleged misconduct to be “inadequate and unreasonable”, and said there was a "lack of credible evidence" from witnesses.

The panel also noted the close proximity between the beginning of her whistle-blowing process and the trust’s decision to suspend her.

Employment judge Gerald Johnson oversaw the hearing at the Teesside Justice Hearing Centre, where he found in favour of Ms Fairhall.

In a report, the panel described Ms Fairhall's nursing record as being “clean and unblemished”.

It also found that Ms Fairhall's complaints when she worked at the trust had contained sufficient information to prove the safety of staff and patients was likely to be endangered.

It said: "The tribunal found that the claimant was at the forefront of a team of nursing staff which was operating under considerable pressure and suffering from a lack of resources to meet the demands of the volume of work imposed upon them."

The panel noted the close proximity between the beginning of Ms Fairhall’s formal whistleblowing process and the trust’s decision to suspend her.

A North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said: "We acknowledge the tribunal’s decision and have lodged an appeal."