'Gardening leave' for surgeon who railed at Clegg and Cameron

David Nunn did not know the ward sister had given permission to bend the rules as long as the journalists and camera crew did not come into contact with any patients

It was a vintage piece of political theatre when a photocall by David Cameron and Nick Clegg at Guy's Hospital was disrupted last week by a disgruntled surgeon objecting to the poor compliance of the camera crew with hygiene regulations. A clip of the incident went viral on Youtube.

But it has ended badly for 57-year-old David Nunn, the orthopaedic surgeon blamed for startling the Prime Minister and his deputy, who has unexpectedly gone on leave, and for his NHS patients who now face longer waits to be seen by Mr Nunn's hard-pressed colleagues.

The hospital yesterday insisted that Mr Nunn's sudden departure was at his own request. But a patient told The Independent a doctor in the ortho-paedic department had used the term "gardening leave" to explain Mr Nunn's absence and claimed he had been "reprimanded" by managers at the trust.

Peter Hodgson, 63, a retired tie manufacturer from Clapham, south London, was seen by Mr Nunn for a hip replacement on the morning of the Prime Minister's visit on 14 June. He returned for a follow-up appointment on Tuesday.

"Mr Nunn was not there and we were told there was a one-and-a-half hour delay. I asked the registrar where he was and he said Mr Nunn was on gardening leave and had been reprimanded for what he did last week. So the very best knee and hip man in London has been suspended, in effect, for telling the people with the Prime Minister to roll up their sleeves and remove their ties because they were not hygienic. And now the rest of the NHS is suffering."

Mr Nunn, who has a private practice at The London Bridge Hospital in addition to his NHS work, appeared to be still at work yesterday. A secretary at the hospital contacted yesterday morning said he was "doing a ward round". In a statement, Guy's and St Thomas' Trust, said that Mr Nunn was "currently on leave" and his patients would be managed by colleagues during his absence. It added: "If we feel any patients would benefit from treatment at another NHS Trust we will refer them to the appropriate consultant."

The sensitivity of the issue was underlined by a leaked memo from the trust, circulated to staff, which said Mr Nunn had "requested leave" and it would be "inappropriate to comment further".

It added: "At this stage we do not know when Mr Nunn will return to the Trust. Staff should be aware that media may phone without identifying themselves as media. It is imperative staff not answer any questions or provide information or personal opinions. If unsure, always decline to comment and terminate the phone call."

Messrs Cameron and Clegg had chosen St Thomas', opposite the House of Commons, for a photocall to launch their u-turn on plans for the NHS. They were chatting to a patient when Mr Nunn burst on to the ward.

He said: "Excuse me, I'm the senior orthopaedic surgeon in this department. Why is it that we're all told to walk around like this and these people aren't?" He then flashed his arms in the direction of the camera crew. Mr Cameron looked perplexed and aides quickly tried to smooth things over, ushering Mr Nunn out into the corridor where he could be heard shouting, "I still mean it".

But actually the ward sister had exempted journalists and camera crew from observing the hygiene rules about rolling up their sleeves and removing ties because they were not coming into contact with patients. Messrs Cameron and Clegg had followed the drill because they were. The trust said at the time that Mr Nunn's view "was not shared by the wider team".

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