A cardiologist who acted as a whistleblower to expose NHS safety fears has won an unfair dismissal case following a lengthy dispute with hospital bosses.
Heart doctor Raj Mattu was “vilified and bullied” after he publicly exposed overcrowding and fears for patient safety at Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry in 2001, claiming that there may have been avoidable deaths as a result.
According to his lawyers Ashfords LLP, Dr Mattu was subjected to a year-long “witch hunt” by the University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust following the disclosures.
Dr Mattu said he felt “vindicated” by the tribunal’s decision but warned that there was insufficient protection available for whistleblowers in the NHS and said he wanted a meeting with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to discuss his concerns.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: “I was rather concerned that the reason I came into medicine, which was to care for patients and to hopefully save lives, was not a priority or certainly a primary aspect of what managers in the hospital in Coventry were focused on. Patient safety was regularly put at risk and patients were dying that I felt would not have died at other hospitals I had worked at.”
He said he was forced to turn whistleblower when the trust repeatedly ignored his complaints about the treatment of patients, including a policy which allowed five patients to be put in a ward designed for four.
A year after speaking out the doctor, who was on a £70,000 salary, was suspended by the trust on full pay after being accused of bullying. He was dismissed in 2010.
Dr Mattu said that the hospital’s head of security had been asked to monitor him following his decision to publicly uncover the failings. The individual was tasked with trying to find “as much information to use against me as possible".
"I was accused of fraud, I was accused of sexual impropriety, assaults, not doing my duties and so on," he said.
The doctor was cleared this week of wrongdoing by Birmingham Employment Tribunal, which ruled the trust unfairly dismissed him and subjected him to "detriments" because he was a whistleblower.
Dr Mattu said: "I'm absolutely relieved that one of the things that has come out of this case that I have won is that I have been vindicated for what I did, because one of the other key findings of the tribunal is that they found that I had not caused or contributed to towards my dismissal."
But he said the trust's actions were typical of the response of NHS managers.
"Unfortunately that is a common practice of many managers within the NHS, this denial of what the primary reason is as to why you are targeted," he said.
"It is very hard to believe that it is sheer coincidence that, having never faced from 1979 to 2001 any allegations or complaints, that suddenly I should have become so altered in my nature and personality that suddenly more than 200 allegations were justified, I was suspended for five-and-a-half years, and prevented from doing the job I had so much wanted to do since the age of 18.
“I just find it quite difficult to overcome the fact that there is always this attempt to put forward a plausible alternative when the real reason at the heart of why all these allegations were suddenly mustered up is the fact that I had whistle blown, spoken out as an advocate for the patients and was not prepared to accept what was in the best interests of the managers.”
He added: “Emotionally it has been very draining. I have mixed emotions over the judgment: I am relieved that I have won the case, I am also pleased that my detriments have been recognised by the employment tribunal.
"But the saddest thing out of all of this for me is that the people who have lost out the most are the patients and the public because for 13 years the trust management have prevented me from looking after patients. They have also, in the way they have treated me, discouraged any further whistleblowers in the NHS from coming forward and risking having their career and livelihood destroyed."
He said he wanted talks with Mr Hunt and NHS chief executive Simon Stevens about his case and the treatment of whistleblowers.
"I am hoping Jeremy Hunt will now grant me a meeting and Mr Stevens, the new chief executive of the NHS, will eventually meet with me so that we may discuss my experiences and, perhaps most importantly, learn important lessons that will prevent any other doctor from being treated this way," he said.
For doctors and nurses who expose problems "the protection presently available in the NHS is not adequate".
Dr Mattu's solicitor Stephen Moore believes the trust spent more than £6 million defending itself during the long-running case in a "David v Goliath battle".
Mr Moore said: "The tribunal's findings - that Dr Mattu was a whistleblower and was unfairly dismissed - completely vindicate him.
"Dr Mattu was a fantastic cardiologist and it was tragic that his pursuit of safety and the highest standards in care led to him being vilified, bullied and harassed out of a job he loved."
After being suspended Dr Mattu won a disciplinary hearing and the trust was forced to reinstate him in 2008.
A year later an inquiry by the General Medical Council also cleared him of the long-standing bullying allegations.
But Dr Mattu continued to experience hostility from management and in 2009 launched grievance procedures.
This was met with counter-allegations of more bullying and breach of confidentiality and in 2010 Dr Mattu was dismissed by the trust while on sick leave.
In a statement, the trust defended its actions and said it was “disappointed” by the tribunal’s decision, which it would consider appealing against after reviewing it in more detail.
But it said it was pleased the tribunal had rejected Dr Mattu’s claim that his dismissal in 2010 was linked to his whistleblowing.
It said: “As a Trust, we will continue to support all our staff to raise issues of concern in our effort to provide continuous improvement in our services to patients.
“The Tribunal judgment also states that his dismissal was not on the grounds of race discrimination or victimisation and further rejected Dr Mattu's claim that he should be reinstated as a consultant at this Trust.
"Members of the public have rightly expressed concern over the time it has taken to resolve this case and it is of regret to the Trust that it could not have been resolved sooner.
“We will be making no further comment on this matter at this time.”
Additional reporting by Press Association
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