Dr Helen Zeitlin's dismissal by West Midlands Regional Health Authority was 'utterly indefensible', a hearing in London was told. A professional committee of the Department of Health - meeting publicly for the first time - heard that the man who wrote the report on which Dr Zeitlin's dismissal was based had no experience of medical redundancies.
Colin Smith, the regional medical manpower officer, admitted that he had no personnel qualifications, that he had never before prepared such a report and that he had neither gathered nor checked its evidence.
Dr Zeitlin, 44, was made redundant from her post as consultant haematologist at Alexandra Hospital, Redditch, in February 1991, a year after speaking out at a public meeting and criticising trust proposals, nursing levels and bed cuts. The health authority says Dr Zeitlin expressed a wish to be made redundant because of her 'appalling' relationship with her fellow consultant, Dr Daisy Obeid, and the illness and stress that caused, and because she had 'set herself up as champion' of nursing standards and suffered worsening relations with other members of staff as a result.
Edward Bailey, counsel for the health authority, said there was not enough work for Dr Zeitlin and the redundancy was genuine.
John Hendy QC, counsel for Dr Zeitlin, said the redundancy was the culmination of a plot hatched after she openly criticised the hospital. 'The most surprising thing about this entire case is the unblushing way that the health authority has tried to defend what is utterly indefensible. This must be one of the most grotesquely unfair dismissals that a panel like this has ever had to consider in respect of a consultant,' he said.
For the regional health authority, Dr Michael Harrison, the regional medical officer; Mr Smith, the medical manpower officer; Dawn Price, the chairwoman of Bromsgrove and Redditch DHA; Graham Coomber, the DHA's managing director; and Dr Barrie Fischer, chairman of the Medical Executive Committee, all said that the redundancy was genuine and they believed they were 'helping' Dr Zeitlin. They denied being involved in a plot to dismiss her, even though a letter from Mrs Price and a memo from Mr Smith had discussed disciplinary proceedings and methods of disposing of Dr Zeitlin in the month before she was dismissed with just 12 hours notice.
Dr Fischer said he signed the report only because he believed Dr Zeitlin wanted to be made redundant. She had agreed to resign only if a considerable ex-gratia payment were made.
Dr Peter Brown, retired director of pathology at Alexandra Hospital, said the pathology management board had discussed whether the number of haematology consultants could be cut from two to one, leaving only Dr Obeid. The board had made its decision on the word of Dr Obeid, the only haematologist present and the woman with whom Dr Zeitlin had such an appalling relationship.
The committee will make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Health who will make a decision within three months. The health authority said before the hearing closed that it would not consider a settlement.