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More than 200 staff at a London NHS trust have aired concerns after it became the first in the country to establish a confidential service for whistleblowers.

The service was set up by Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust (BHRUT) to improve the quality of care and patient safety at its two hospitals, Queen’s in Romford and King George in Ilford.

Patient champion Ashley Brooks

Patient champion Ashley Brooks

It is led by Ashley Brooks, a businessman who became a NHS motivational speaker and “patient champion” after he survived cancer thanks to the care he received at St Bartholomew’s hospital.

BHRUT is the only London trust in special measures and the “guardian service” is part of its improvement plan. Care Quality Commission inspectors are due to re-inspect the hospitals from March 2.

Mr Brooks, from Benfleet, Essex, said trust bosses had been “brave” to encourage staff to come forward. “They are the trailblazers,” he said. “They could have been damaged.

“Organisations that concentrate as much effort on their staff engagement as patient engagement will be the trusts at the end of the day that win out and give the best patient care.”

He began work at the trust in June 2013 as part of a nationwide patient care initiative in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire hospitals scandal. It became apparent that staff were in greater need.

“Within two weeks of being there, it was obvious to me they weren’t ready for patient engagement,” he said. “It was more staff engagement. The staff needed love and compassion – I can give that in spades.”

He uses his experience as a patient, when he was rushed into St Bartholomew’s 13 years ago. “I was a very, very sick man,” he said. “I spent seven months under their care. I received world-class care. Having leukaemia changed the course of my life because of the love I received from the NHS.”

He recognised the need for a whistleblowing service after a student nurse working at another London hospital broke down in tears in front of an audience as she told him of her concerns about unsafe care on an elderly people’s ward. The following day, she was locked in a cupboard for eight hours as punishment.

He said: “Someone could be working in the NHS and never had the chance to come forward before. People are absolutely fearful of reprisals. They think by raising concerns they’re asking for their P45 and they’re going to be bullied every day. I have stopped staff leaving, because of the guardian service.

“Everybody talks about patient-centred care and patient experience. Nobody really talks about how we deal with staff experience as well. Looking after our staff is as important as looking after our patients. Research shows that really well-looked after, valued staff get better outcomes.”

Trust chief executive Matthew Hopkins said: “It’s vitally important that we operate in a way that has our patients’ best interests at heart, and I have encouraged my staff to speak up if they know of any practices and processes that do not always put our patients first.”