The Conservative MP, who spoke to directors during a visit to the hospital yesterday, has remained silent over the case of consultant cardiologist Kevin Beatt, wrongly sacked for raising concerns about patient safety, despite being urged to intervene three months ago.
Dr Beatt led the hospital’s well-respected cardiac catheter laboratory until he was fired by Croydon Health Services NHS Trust in 2013 after criticising hospital management.
An employment tribunal ruled in October last year he had been unfairly dismissed for whistleblowing on patient safety and staff bullying.
An appeals tribunal subsequently found Croydon Health Services had no grounds to appeal the judgment, but the trust has refused to drop the legal fight and hopes to have that ruling overturned.
David Drew, a doctor who has campaigned for better protection for NHS whistleblowers, wrote to Mr Hunt in January urging him to launch an inquiry into the trust’s treatment of Dr Beatt.
But Mr Hunt, who in February pledged to end a culture of bullying and intimidation among NHS directors, has not responded and this week claimed he was not aware of the case.
He told the Croydon Guardian: “I’m not [familiar with it], no. I may have had a letter but obviously I don’t have the paperwork in front of me now.”
In a strongly critical second letter to the health secretary, Dr Drew wrote: “Your own silence on this matter speaks volumes.
“And your inaction can only embolden bullying managers and make decent NHS staff even more reluctant to speak up for their patients. How can this help promote a safe reporting culture?”
In February, Sir Robert Francis QC published an independent report on NHS whisteblowers, who he concluded were bullied and intimidated amid a “climate of fear”.
Following its publication, Mr Hunt, who commissioned the review, told Parliament: “The whole House will be profoundly shocked at the nature and extent of what has been revealed today.
“The message must go out today that we are calling time on bullying, intimidation and victimisation which has no place in our NHS.”
But Dr Drew said: “It is clear that Dr Beatt’s situation is no better for having won at the tribunal nor for the work of Sir Robert Francis in exposing the scandalous treatment whistle-blowers are subjected to. No-one has called time on his oppressors.”
Mr Hunt, centre, with Conservative Party election candidates for Croydon Gavin Barwell, left, and Chris Philp at Croydon University Hospital yesterday
He added: “Dr Beatt should be exonerated, reinstated and receive a full apology from the managers responsible for his mistreatment.
“Then, as I requested in my letter of January 15 I believe you should set up an inquiry into how the Trust board at Croydon conspired to destroy the career of a good doctor.”
Mr Hunt, who met with Croydon Health Services chief executive John Goulston and chairman Mike Bell on Tuesday, declined to comment on the case.
Speaking after the announcement of £21m funding for the hospital’s new A&E department, he said: “It is difficult for me to comment on an individual case because I don’t have all the details in front of me.
“But certainly the conversation I have had with management today is very much about culture change and creating a culture where staff feel better supported to speak out about concerns. This is not something that matters just for Croydon University Hospital, it is a matter for all NHS trusts.
“Too many places have had a culture where front-line staff have not felt able to speak out and felt they would be victimised or bullied or harassed and the result is that patient safety concerns have not been addressed as quickly as they should, so I’ll certainly be doing everything I can to champion a change of culture in the NHS.”
Asked if he would consider intervening in Dr Beatt’s case, he said: “I can’t comment on this particular case but there are cases I have got involved in.
“I met a whole group of whisteblowers before [Sir Francis’s] Freedom to Speak Up review and I hope whistleblowers have recognised that I’ve done more than any other health secretary in the past to try to improve the culture to make it easier to speak up.
“But I’m also realistic enough to recognise that these things don’t change overnight.”
The General Medical Council last month dropped its investigation into Dr Beatt, who the employment tribunal ruled been “maliciously” referred to the regulator by Croydon Health Services.
Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron stepped in to prevent whistleblower Dr Hayley Dare being saddled with £100,000 costs after she lost her case against West London Mental Health Trust on a technicality.