Today I found out the sad news that Vassanta has died. I met Vassanta when I was going through my own Fitness to Practice process and it was she who inspired me to have the courage to appeal against my strike-off. She was tenacious, skilled and so knowledgeable in all aspects that it gave me the confidence to know I could do it – and do it I did.
Vassanta was one of the few people who told me what I needed to hear and not what I wanted to hear, her straight-talking was just what I needed – she prepared me for the worst and told me how to ensure I was completely prepared for the fight I had ahead of me.
Vassanta was the reason I set up NMCWatch – without her, I would have likely just hidden away, thinking I was the only one stupid enough to go through FtP and be too scared to speak up about the wrongs of process. She helped me realise there were things I could not change but there were things I could and that we must be active in this process and are not impotent. She taught me that it is our responsibility to politely challenge and ensure we speak up when our regulator fails us. She taught me not to believe everything that was written and to analyse data and outcomes by our regulator with professional scepticism and an investigatory mind to look at what was behind what was written – the context and also – what wasn’t written and why!! She reminded me of the need not to turn a blind eye and to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves, to do so respectfully but not take everything our regulator sometimes tells us as gospel.
Vassanta helped me realise that this process is as flawed as any and as such we should go into it with our eyes open and educate those investigating us to ensure a suitable, proper, thorough and proportionate approach. That we should expect only the highest of standards from them and when they slip expect accountability. She helped me stop being naïve and also to realise I did have a voice and it was my duty to use it.
Her work was not without its own personal risks – whilst taking the NMC to court for defamation following her successful appeal against strike-off she was unable to win due to the Absolute Privilege Law which she vowed to try to change. She saw the AP law as the sticking point against justice for many where those working within FtP could hide behind legislation with no accountability when they got it wrong. She also helped me look at the themes across other regulators and she took the data she had gathered as high as she could through parliament and to change makers. As with everything she did, she took this approach to try to prevent others from going through the same trauma that she had been through – something which resonates with me very clearly. She knew the risks of taking on a defamation case against the NMC but she did it anyway as someone had to.
She said to me that “they have taken everything away from me so I have nothing to lose. I have been through six years of hell all because I whistleblew and challenged people. It was wrong and unfair and things need to change”.
I knew that today was likely to come – she had been unwell for some time with a long illness, one that she solely put at the feet of the NMC for the stress caused to her over all that time. She felt her illness was a direct reaction to this stress and shared this with others who have had similar diagnoses during or after FtP. Like them, Vassanta is no longer here to highlight this link – perhaps others can on her behalf. I hope that her story will not be lost in time along with others like her who have passed and were convinced that the stress of process caused their illness. Many told her to give up, to stop fighting and focus on getting through her illness, but to continue was part of her core. It was essential to her to continue fighting this injustice and to try to right the wrongs and to advocate.
She helped many people not only me, whistleblowers and many others but also many she never knew but who read about her campaigning and the light she shone on the failure of whistle-blowers and nurses country-wide. She campaigned with the APPG to look at issues faced by healthcare whistleblowers and in recent years was instrumental in bringing to light those needing to take action against mesh injuries at parliamentary level. She contributed to the First Do No Harm independent review of medical devices as well as advocating for many others going through workplace disputes and Fitness to Practice.
I wish I had called her more, told her what a difference she made to me and the legacy that she created – likely she would have told me off and told me just to get on with it!
Vassanta thank you – rest easy now – we will keep going…