Doctor 'victimised for criticising nursing levels'

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The Independent Online
A consultant haematologist who spoke out against trust hospital plans was systematically victimised for a year before being made the subject of a spurious redundancy, it was claimed yesterday.

Dr Helen Zeitlin said her world 'oscillated between Lewis Carroll, Solzhenitsyn and Kafka' after she criticised hospital nursing levels and bed cuts.

Dr Zeitlin, 44, is appealing against being made redundant from Alexandra Hospital, Redditch. At a hearing of the professional committee of the Department of Health in London - the first to be held publicly - Dr Zeitlin said the redundancy was used as an excuse by the West Midlands Regional Health Authority to rid itself of 'a thorn in its side'.

After telling a public meeting in January 1990 that she was perturbed by the Government's White Paper on trust hospitals, by the possibility of a two-tier medical system and by the fear that critically low levels of nursing staff and beds would be frozen by trust status, Dr Zeitlin said she believed a decision was taken to sack her.

'I believe it was a case of 'off with her head',' she told the hearing yesterday. Consultants later voted down the hospital's plans to become a trust.

John Hendy QC, for Dr Zeitlin, said documents recovered since she left showed that there was a cynical plot to remove her on 'ostensible and spurious grounds of redundancy'.

In one of the documents, written three months before the redundancy, Dawn Price, chair of Bromsgrove and Redditch DHA, wrote: 'I consider that the district has tolerated her behaviour for long enough and, in the best interests of everyone concerned, the time has come for formal disciplinary proceedings to be initiated.'

Dr Zeitlin was given notice on 28 February 1991. She told the hearing that her secretary opened the notice for her and later encountered another member of staff who had heard that Dr Zeitlin had been 'sacked'. Other officials in the department learned of the dismissal before Dr Zeitlin.

The health authority said an increase in workload, anticipated when Dr Zeitlin was appointed in 1986, had not materialised. But Mr Hendy said her job description provided for an increase in population from 165,000 to 172,000. In fact it rose to 174,000.

Edward Bailey, counsel for the RHA, said Dr Zeitlin had a bad relationship with other members of staff at the hospital and an appalling relationship with her fellow consultant, Dr Daisy Obeid.

He said the relationships continued to worsen until Dr Zeitlin wrote to management saying she felt she could no longer carry out her professional duties because of falling standards of care.

A meeting was held on 9 November 1990 between Dr Zeitlin, Joe Chattin, her BMA representative, and Dr Michael Harrison, the regional medical officer. Dr Zeitlin and Mr Chattin said no mention was made at the meeting of redundancy although, because of stress and illness, Dr Zeitlin had said she would resign in return for an ex gratia payment. Dr Harrison and Barrie Fischer, chairman of the medical executive committee, said yesterday that they understood Mr Chattin had suggested redundancy.

The hearing will conclude today. Recommendations will be made to the Secretary of State for Health, who will make a decision in about three months.

(Photograph omitted)