Sacked Cardiologist who blew whistle on overcrowding at hospital wins employment case

Cardiologist Dr Raj Mattu, represented by Ashfords LLP, has won claims of unfair dismissal and discrimination against the University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust following a lengthy battle in the Employment Tribunal.

Dr Mattu was dismissed by the Trust in 2010, nine years after he raised concerns about dangerous post-operative care. Specifically, he was concerned that the hospital's new ‘five-in-four' policy - a cost cutting strategy to place five beds in bays designed for four - was putting patients' lives at risk. Dr Mattu and two senior nursing colleagues lodged an official Serious Clinical Incident report after a 35 year old patient died because staff could not reach him with vital lifesaving equipment whilst he was being resuscitated, due to the bay being overcrowded. Additionally, he highlighted that the transfer of Birmingham heart patients to Coventry, which resulted in the delay of operations for Coventry patients, led to mortality on the waiting list.

Five months after going public with this information, he was suspended following allegations of bullying a junior doctor. In July 2007, the Trust decided to lift Dr Mattu's suspension but, having agreed to reskill him, took more than a year to commence the training he required.

In March 2009 the General Medical Council dismissed the allegations of bullying against Dr Mattu after a prolonged investigation into over 200 wide-ranging allegations against the cardiologist from the Trust. However, the Trust insisted on downgrading the level of reskilling the Trust would provide - meaning Dr Mattu would be prevented from returning to his original position.

The Trust then proceeded to seek the dismissal of Dr Mattu in December 2009 through new disciplinary procedure based on further false allegations relating to the cardiologist's reskilling and breach of confidentiality to the media.

Dr Mattu's pre-existing auto-immune disorder deteriorated and he was forced on sick leave in February 2010. The Trust conducted a disciplinary hearing in Dr Mattu's absence in November 2010 - whilst he was hospitalised - and summarily dismissed him.

The Tribunal's Findings

The case was heard between May and November 2013, and on Wednesday 16 April Employment Judge Hughes and her panel sitting at Birmingham Employment Tribunal found the following:

Unfair Dismissal and Disability Discrimination

Dr Mattu was unfairly dismissed, and his dismissal amounted to unfavourable treatment because of something arising as a consequence of his disability. Although the Trust knew that exacerbation of Dr Mattu's illness required three to six months to show improvement, senior managers refused to delay the disciplinary process to allow him to recover his health, and refused to make reasonable adjustments.

Whistle Blowing

The Tribunal agreed that Dr Mattu is a whistle blower and was entitled to legal protection, but had instead been subjected to many detriments by the Trust as a result. These included comments by senior managers about their intention to 'get rid' of Dr Mattu. In September 2001, Dr Mattu was advised to go public about his 'five-in-four concerns' and appeared on the BBC. Senior Trust Managers responded with public claims that there was no evidence of the incident Dr Mattu described. Their quotes were found to be "selective" and it was concluded that these actions were "clearly detrimental" to Dr Mattu because they portrayed him as someone who had made a serious allegation without sufficient evidence that it was founded. Also in 2001, after continued serious failings by management including poor leadership, dangers to patient safety, the consultants in the cardiac department passed unanimous votes of no confidence in the clinical director and directorate manager. Dr Mattu's colleagues elected him as the replacement clinical director, but this was refused by the CEO.

Comments on the Outcome

The case has attracted wide-spread interest due to public interest in the whistle blowing issues, the unprecedented length of the hearing and the cost to the taxpayer of the 13-year history leading up to last week's Judgment.

Following the judgment, Dr Raj Mattu said, "I am relieved that I have won my case. I can only hope that the NHS learns from my case and starts to listen to its doctors and nurses who raise concerns."

Dr Mattu's solicitor, Stephen Moore of Ashfords' Employment Team, commented, "This case has brought to light the appalling way whistle blowers are still being treated and raises important and wider issues that must be addressed. "

Dr Mattu's legal team included Ashfords' Head of Employment Stephen Moore, solicitor Emily Felton, and Counsel Jack Mitchell and Joe England of 3PB.

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