The financial crisis engulfing three hospitals in Yorkshire was dramatically worsened yesterday after an employment tribunal awarded £4.5m compensation to a consultant who was hounded out of her job.
The huge award was made to the Polish-born Eva Michalak after she won a sex and race discrimination case against Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust which sacked her for having a baby. The trust, which runs hospitals in Dewsbury, Pinderfields and Pontefract serving a population of 500,000 people, is already struggling to make over £30m in efficiency savings and has said it needs a £14m bailout to balance the books.
The British Medical Association warned yesterday that the award could be "potentially destabilising" for the trust but defended the scale of the compensation payment to Dr Michalak. The 53-year-old consultant was first suspended in 2006 and then sacked in 2008 from her £88,000-a-year job at Pontefract General Infirmary over allegations that she had bullied junior doctors and argued with colleagues.
But an employment tribunal found last year that she had been fired "for a reason that related to [her] pregnancy".
She had been the first consultant physician at the hospital to take maternity leave in 2003 when she left work to have a baby boy. The complaints of bullying surfaced when she returned to work later the same year.
She was subjected to a campaign of harassment and false allegations from senior doctors and managers which damaged her mental and physical health as a result of which she will never work as a doctor again, the tribunal concluded.
In a damning judgment, the Leeds tribunal said it had been "outraged" at the way senior staff in the trust had behaved. The tribunal heard that "secret meetings" had been held even before she went on maternity leave. Staff later put forward evidence based on "deliberate falsehoods" to justify their allegations. The trust's then medical director was found to have "manipulated" and "engineered" her dismissal and was condemned by the tribunal as a "self-acknowledged liar".
Yesterday, Dr Michalak was awarded £1.1m for loss of past and future earnings plus £660,000 for loss of pension. She was also awarded damages for injury to her feelings and exemplary damages against the trust.
Speaking after the tribunal's decision last year, Dr Michalak said: "I suffered years of psychological abuse. They basically hounded me because I had a baby. They destroyed my life, my health and my career. The last seven years have been a living hell. Their dishonesty was staggering."
Julia Squire, chief executive of the Mid-Yorkshire Trust, apologised to Dr Michalak and said it needed time to consider the "very complex and lengthy calculations" on the size of the award.
Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, said the case was not representative of working in the NHS as whole.
"But, beyond doubt, when things go wrong, there is something in the NHS culture that allows them to go spectacularly wrong. People become entrenched in their positions and cannot rectify their mistakes until it is too late.
"Such an award in the current financial climate is potentially destabilising of the institution itself. It should be a reminder to management that they must lead by example.
"The award is breathtaking, but when you see what the woman went through it is hard to say it was undeserved."