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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Bullying helpline breaches callers confidentiality

If you bypass the acual issue of whether Gordon Brown did or didn't shout and scream at staff just for one moment, there actually is a much bigger issue at stake - the confidentiality of those that contacted the bullying helpline.

From the BBC website:

She [Christine Pratt] told the BBC: "Over recent months we have had several inquiries from staff within Gordon Brown's office.  "Some have downloaded information; some have actually called our helpline directly and I have spoken to staff in his office."
I personally believe that Christine Pratt is completely and utterley out of order for confirming this as it now potentially can create an even worse atmosphere for those staff members as everyone will go into work tomorrow thinking, was it you that called the bullying helpline?

If this alleged bullying has indeed taken place, Christine Pratt has therefore provided some very sensitive information such as "Some have downloaded information;" - this will enable an IT expert to check which computers within the specific department have visited that particular website.  Very useful information for a bully.
On Saturday the prime minister told Channel 4 News things were sometimes said "in the heat of the moment" and when he was angry he might "throw the newspapers on the floor or something like that".
As I said at the beginning, I am not going into detail on whether Gordon Brown, or anyone else has or has not bullied anyone within the Cabinet Office, that is for other's to investigate if they see fit.

Now, I have never visited the National Bullying Helpline website before today, but I was a little surprised when I got there to only see quotes from Ann Widdecombe MP (although she is their Patron) and David Cameron.  I do not belive that Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg would not have given a quote if asked, however, have they ever been asked?

So, my initial though then became, is this story more politically motivated than we had perhaps originally thought?

However, back to my main point which is the confidentiality of anyone who calls or complains via the website.
We never share your details with anyone else. All correspondence is confidential.
That is the key message on their website, then their privacy policy states on the contacts us section;
We have a clear privacy policy. We do not share your details with anyone. In a situation where you may wish us to support you in bringing a complaint against your employer we would observe conflict of interest. Where we are asked to mediate we would seek consent from both the employee and the employer to ensure that this approach suited all the parties.
So far Christine Pratt's comments to the BBC seem to contradict both of these statements.  So, I then read the terms and conditions of the National Bullying Helpline to read more.  That is where I then found this;
4.1 Other than personally identifiable information which is covered by our privacy policy, any material you transmit to the Website shall be considered non-confidential. The Company shall have no obligations with respect to such material and it shall be free to copy, disclose, distribute and incorporate use of such material and all data, images, sounds, text for any purpose.
Is it me or is this statement in their terms and conditions slightly different to their privacy policy?  The privacy policy states "we do not share your details with anyone", but the terms and conditions imply that other than the very personal data they will copy, disclose, distribute and incorporate use of such material etc etc.

In other words, Christine Pratt has not breached the confidentiality because in practice other than actual names and addresses your data is not protected and as Christine Pratt has shown today she is happy to share it with the BBC and any other news organisation if there is a story.

My advice would be never to use this helpline because your data and call is not as protected as you may have thought, and that if you are being bullied already this extra pressure will only make the situation potentially worse for you.

I was bullied as a youngster and to this day cannot tell you why the individual picked on me.  I may have called a helpline such as this if it had existed back then, but imagine how you would feel if by contacting the helpline your details were used in this manner?

I really, really feel for the staff in the Cabinet Office that called or contacted the helpline, they would have thought that the call would have helped their situation, and initially it properly did, but they must be going through hell today and going to work tomorrow will now, because of Christine Pratt be a major, major event.

If, however this story is proven to be politically motivated, then there are much wider repercussions that will be felt.  I do hope I am wrong.


Jimmy said...

You might want to have a look at this:

Unknown said...

If nothing else, the NBH's website is utterly dreadful.

I can't believe a charity would commit suicide in this way without permission of the people involved, but having seen the news reports which identified the gender of one of the people, I'm very worried.

Did Caroline Pratt consult the trustees before talking to the press?

The NBH has a lot to do to reassure the people it helps.

I wonder, though, if Caroline Pratt was provoked by Mandelson's comments on Marr today - I don't like what he was saying about "taking it like a man" an attitude which often conceals a nasty, macho, bullying culture.

Unknown said...

Sorry, got her name wrong - Christine Pratt. Thanks to the little bird who tipped me off:-)

Rob Parsons said...

About halfway down its front page there's a section on the NHS and schools, which starts with the following phrase; "Teachers and NHS Employees (die: GP's and Consultants)" - what on earth is that about???

KelvinKid said...

Thanks for blogging on this Andrew. Your post and the comments raise grave doubts over the status of this helpline. It would seem that it is actually a moneymaking proposition run by a Tory supporter and her partner. Their expertise is called into doubt by the material posted on the linked sites and you rightly question their use of information given to them in confidential in confidence.

Anonymous said...

I was unfortunate enough to call NBH when I needed help... I was told was that I should use her husbands company to talk to my employer - she then sent through a model letter and list of things to do - one of those was to contact her husbands company and the document talked of the very competitive rates - the only name her "charity " put forward was her husbands company - there was no choice.

I was disgusted and wrote to Ann Snelgrove to voice my concerns that this National 'charity' was running this way..

Christine Pratt say that its all above board...but is it? I mean when you call the samaritans they dont sell you life insurance from a company owned by the partner of the CEO? A charity help line is NOT the place to get business leads from - surely?? I just think and always have done that it all needs looking into..

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