‘Landmark legal win’ for cardiologist Dr Kevin Beatt sacked by Croydon Hospital for whistleblowing on patient safety

First published Wednesday 3 December 2014 in Local news
Last updated 14:10 Thursday 4 December 2014
Your Local Guardian: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by Chris Baynes, Reporter

Dr Kevin Beatt was unfairly dismissed for raising concerns about safety at Croydon University Hospital
Dr Kevin Beatt was unfairly dismissed for raising concerns about safety at Croydon University Hospital

A leading heart doctor who blew the whistle on safety following a patient’s death at Croydon University Hospital was unfairly dismissed amid a calculated attempt to damage his reputation, a tribunal has ruled.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Kevin Beatt stands to receive thousands of pounds in compensation following his landmark victory in a two-year legal battle with Croydon Health Services NHS Trust.

The trust sacked him in September 2012 after he raised the alarm about staffing shortages, “appalling” equipment and workplace bullying.
From July 2013: Man dies during routine operation at Croydon University Hospital after lead nurse is suspended

From June 2014: Croydon University Hospital suppressed safety concerns after patient death, claims ‘whistleblower’ Dr Kevin Beatt

Dr Beatt, a renowned specialist who led the hospital’s well-regarded department for interventional heart procedures from 2007, should have been afforded protected whistleblower status.

But instead he lost his job in a case he claimed provided a damning demonstration of the trust’s attempts to cover up failings.

The trust argued it had dismissed him “for making unsubstantiated and unproven allegations of an unsafe service”.

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But the employment tribunal ruled there was “no consistent evidence” of misconduct and that chief executive John Goulston, whose evidence it criticised as inconsistent, had “failed to carry out a fair process”.

Mr Goulston was interim chief executive at the time Dr Beatt was sacked after joining from a regional provider development role with NHS London in May 2012. He became chief executive of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust in February 2013.

The London South Employment tribunal ruled the doctor was unfairly dismissed solely or principally because he made a protected disclosure.

It is believed to be the first time an NHS whistleblower has won such a legal dispute on that point.

Between 2008 and his dismissal, Dr Beatt raised a catologue of concerns about inadequate equipment, bullying and harassment of junior employees, removal of key staff, a lack of competent nurses and the failure to properly investigate serious incidents.

In January 2010, he voiced serious fears to then medical director Tony Newman-Sanders that the cardiology unit’s radiation equipment, the oldest in use in the country, was putting patients and staff at risk.

He was accused of fabricating his concerns so he could treat patients elsewhere, but six months later the machinery was condemned and replaced after breaking down during an operation.

Friction between the cardiologist and hospital directors came to a head in July the next year, when a 63-year-old patient died during a routine procedure after a senior nurse was suspended without Dr Beatt’s knowledge.

Dr Beatt, who was left for 20 minutes without a nurse with even basic familiarity with the operation, described the suspension as “the most overtly reckless act” he had witnessed in his career.

He said he would not have begun the procedure had he known the nurse had been suspended.

The tribunal heard that four days after the death Dr Beatt was verbally threatened by Nick Hulme, then the trust’s chief executive.

Mr Hulme, who resigned in February 2012, allegedly warned the doctor not to make accusations about his managers in relation to what happened.

Mr Beatt told the tribunal: “I felt very intimidated by Mr Hulme’s statement and it was a clear warning to me that the trust did not want me to raise patient safety concerns and wanted to protect the management team from any suggestion that their decision to suspend Sister Jones may have contributed to the death.”

Your Local Guardian:

‘Intimidation’: Nick Hulme, the trusts’s former chief executive, allegedly threatened Dr Beatt

The trust claimed Dr Beatt’s criticisms were “vexatious” and calculated to ensure the restoration of Sister Lucy Jones, and in September 2011 it began disciplinary proceedings that culminated in his sacking.

But at an inquest at South London Coroner’s Court last year, coroner Dr Roy Palmer ruled Sister Jones’s absence had contributed to Gerald Storey’s death.

And the tribunal found there was “no evidence” Dr Beatt had an ulterior motive and that “extremely damaging” and “entirely false” allegations had levelled at him during a investigation into the Mr Storey’s death.

Those included claims by Dr Asif Qasim, the hospital’s clinical lead for medical specialities who had been repeatedly accused of bullying staff, that Mr Beatt was mentally unstable.

Witness statements made to the serious untoward incident inquiry into Mr Storey’s death had also been altered, the tribunal found.

Employment judge Gill Sage, the tribunal’s chair, said: “The tribunal therefore conclude on all the evidence before us that the respondent has not shown that the reason for dismissal was misconduct.”

She added the panel believed a “misleading” press statement about Mr Beatt’s dismissal, issued following the inquest 10 months later, had been “calculated and was likely to cause damage to his reputation”.

The tribunal, which sat between May and October this year, also unamimously ruled Dr Beatt had been subjected to detriment as a result of making a protected disclosure as a whistleblower.

But it dismissed a claim for unauthorised deduction of wages because Dr Beatt had not raised a grievance within the designated time limit.

Your Local Guardian:

‘Inconsistent’: Chief executive John Goulston’s evidence to the tribunal was criticised by the judge

After tribunal’s ruling, Dr Beatt told the Croydon Guardian he believed the trust systematically tried to silence concerns.

He said: “Essentially they ignored some of the statements made to the serious untoward incident report and submitted their own version.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that what they do is, if things have gone badly wrong, instead of saying things have gone badly wrong, they try to cover it up.

“The bigger picture here is it’s not just this case they’ve done it on. They’ve done it on lots of others.

“At the end of the day it is in order to misrepresent events to the patient and their relatives. That needs to be exposed.”

He said the legal battle and the trust’s decision to refer him to General Medical Council had taken “a very considerable toll” on him and left him unable to find work within the NHS, adding: “That’s why they do it.

“They do it because it will prevent me from getting a job and that will prevent me from pursuing them in court because I won’t be able to afford the costs.”

Dr Beatt said he believed the trust had spent “more than £100,000” fighting his case, which he was only able to pursue because his lawyers Linklaters agreed to work pro bono.

A spokesman for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said it would appeal the ruling.

He said: “We are clearly very disappointed with the tribunal’s decision.

“Having sought legal advice, the trust is in the process of submitting an appeal against the judgment, to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

“We take all concerns about patient safety extremely seriously, as well as allegations of bullying against any of our employees.

“It is everyone’s responsibility at Croydon Hospital Services to uphold great care for patients, and for our staff to know that they will be listened to and supported.”

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