A senior cardiologist who was sacked from his job at Mayday Hospital after he complained that decisions over staffing had led to the death on the operating table of one of his patients has won his six-year battle against the NHS management, following a ruling yesterday by three senior judges at the Court of Appeal.
Kevin Beatt had been “hounded out of work in an insulting and humiliating manner”, according to evidence heard by the Court of Appeal, which overturned a previous decision by an Employment Appeal Tribunal.
The original Employment Tribunal decision, in 2014, had ruled that Croydon University Hospital Trust had made a calculated attempt to damage Dr Beatt’s reputation. Dr Beatt has claimed throughout that his case provides a damning demonstration of the Trust’s attempts to cover up failings.
Yesterday’s Appeal Court ruling will put extreme pressure on John Goulston, now Croydon Health Services NHS Trust’s chief executive, who presided over early stages of Dr Beatt’s dismissal and who in 2014 was criticised by the Employment Tribunal for inconsistent evidence. The ET ruling said that he had “failed to carry out a fair process”.
The health minister, Jeremy Hunt, refused to intervene in the case, saying that it was a matter for the local NHS Trust, which continued to spend £5,000 per day on court fees for expensive lawyers at every stage of the process.
Health service campaigners who fight for the right of whistleblowers in the NHS last night described the judgement as the “win of the decade”, and criticised the massive sums of taxpayer money which has been “squandered” in an effort to protect NHS managers’ decisions.
There could now be a further hearing to determine compensation payments to Dr Beatt. Another NHS whistleblower doctor was recently awarded £2.5million, after he had been suspended on full pay for eight years before his dismissal for raising concerns about patient safety.
In 2005, Dr Beatt had been the founder of the “Cath Lab” at Mayday Hospital, which specialises in the treatment of heart conditions by angioplasty and by catheterisation as opposed to open-heart surgery.
From around 2008, Dr Beatt raised a catalogue of concerns about inadequate equipment, bullying and harassment of junior employees, removal of key staff, a lack of competent nurses and the failure to investigate properly serious incidents.
Relationships between Dr Beatt and his colleagues in the unit had been “dysfunctional” for sometime before, in June 2011, he was called into a management meeting over the conduct of senior nurse, Lucy Jones, who was accused of being rude and abusive to two other managers.
During a break in the meeting Dr Beatt was called to the Cath Lab to take over a procedure. In his absence, Jones was suspended.
In the meantime, complications developed in the procedure being conducted by the doctor and the patient, Gerald Storey, died. Dr Beatt did not know that Jones had been suspended, and he later claimed that had he had her help during the procedure, they would have been better able to save the patient’s life.
In emails and letters of complaint, Dr Beatt described the suspension of Sister Jones in the middle of the working day as “reckless”. A coroner later agreed that the suspension had been a factor in Storey’s death.
Dr Beatt continued to raise his concerns over this and other matters until, in September 2012, he was dismissed for gross misconduct. His initial appeal against his dismissal was rejected by a panel led by Goulston. But after a 12-day hearing in 2014, an employment tribunal issued a 201-page report which concluded his dismissal had been unfair.
“It comes through very clearly from the papers that the Trust regarded Dr Beatt as a troublemaker, who had unreasonably and unfairly taken against colleagues and managers who were doing their best to do their own jobs properly.
“It is all too easy for an employer to allow its view of a whistleblower [being] a difficult colleague or an awkward personality, as whistleblowers sometimes are, to cloud its judgement.”
Parliament, the judge said, had “quite deliberately, and for understandable policy reasons, conferred a high level of protection on whistleblowers”.
The judge, sitting with Sir Terence Etherton and Lady Justice King, said: “If there is a moral from this very sad story, which has turned out so badly for the Trust as well as for Dr Beatt, it is that employers should proceed to the dismissal of whistleblowers only where they are as confident as they reasonably can be that the disclosures in question are not protected.”
The ruling will inevitably raise more questions about the costs incurred by the NHS Trust, effectively to protect the reputation of those managers who had overseen Dr Beatt’s dismissal. Before Trust took the case to the Employment Tribunal appeal, Old Square Chambers, where the barristers working on the case for the Trust were retained, spent upto £60,000 for case preparation up until the first day of the hearing and between £4,000 to £5,000 per day thereafter. That was before the case went to the Court of Appeal.
Beatt’s legal work was done on a pro bono basis by his advocates.
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