4th February 2016
Sacked Cardiologist Finally Draws a Line after NHS Trust Wastes Over £14m in Tax Payers’ Money Fighting the Case
An eminent cardiologist who blew the whistle after cost-cutting changes led to the deaths of patients and was then subjected to a fifteen year NHS smear campaign has been awarded significant damages by an Employment Tribunal.
The Birmingham Employment Tribunal awarded Dr Raj Mattu, an eminent and life-saving cardiologist who was prevented from practicing for 14 years, £ 1.22m net in compensation following his successful claim against University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust. The Judge has ordered that the Trust pay Dr Mattu’s income tax and national insurance bill plus interest which we estimate to be around £1.3m. The total awarded is therefore estimated to be £2.5m payable by the Trust.
It is estimated that the Trust spent over £14m of public money in legal fees and costs defending Dr Mattu’s claim. Freedom of Information requests submitted by Dr Mattu’s lawyer, Stephen Moore at Ashfords LLP, revealed that the NHS Trust had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a PR agency to try and protect its reputation and discredit Dr Mattu. Thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money was also spent on private investigators, hired to follow the heart specialist to try and engineer bogus complaints against him. Stephen Moore at Ashfords LLP says “… this a highly unusual step by any employer to take and the money spent is eye watering, questions have to be raised about how this was allowed to happen”.
In perhaps the most high profile NHS whistle-blower case to date, the Birmingham Employment Tribunal heard how Dr Mattu was subjected to a 12 year witch hunt by the Trust. After launching unfounded disciplinary action, the Trust conducted a campaign of bullying and intimidation, in an attempt to force his resignation. The Trust then deliberately downgraded the level of reskilling they were compelled to provide, thereby preventing Dr Mattu from returning to his original senior position in the hospital.
The NHS Trust reported over 200 false allegations against Dr Mattu to the General Medical Council (GMC) between 2002 and 2013. The GMC rejected all of the false claims made by the Trust.
The stress of Dr Mattu’s ordeal – colleagues described him as being “hounded mercilessly” – seriously affected his health, exacerbating a disability that he suffered from, resulting in him undergoing major lung surgery and spending weeks in hospital.
Dr Mattu’s lawyer Stephen Moore of Ashfords LLP said:
“This case has highlighted the dreadful way whistle-blowers can be relentlessly pursued by employers and the NHS must never again treat another individual as they did Dr.Mattu. The significant concerns which my client raised were proved to be well-founded and the award allows him to begin rebuilding a shattered life. It is a reflection of all that he has suffered and it is a terrible waste that such a skilled individual will not be able to return to a job he loved and did so much for people. ”
In its findings, the Tribunal ruled:
- 1. Dr Mattu was unfairly dismissed by University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust
- 2. That Dr Mattu was discriminated on the grounds of his disability which was exacerbated by the stress caused to him by the Trust in its campaign of harassment against him
- 3. Dr Mattu’s information about standards of care were qualified, protected disclosures and that he suffered detriments on over 25 occasions as a result
- 4. And that Dr Mattu did not in any way cause or contribute to his dismissal
Dr Raj Mattu said:
“After I was headhunted to help establish a new medical school at Warwick University, I was forced to raise concerns within the NHS about unsafe standards of patient care and avoidable deaths at University Hospital Coventry.
“I suffered reprisals from Trust management in a vicious campaign to ostracise and discredit me. This included an unlawful 6-year suspension using falsified allegations of bullying.
“Having performed, in good faith, my duty to serve the public and patients in their best interests at all times, I am hugely disappointed and saddened by the unrestrained attack which me and my loved ones to have had to suffer for so long.
“I urge those in authority in the NHS and DoH to learn from my horrendous experiences by now properly investigating my case, and thereby become properly informed about what is truly happening with patient safety and protection of whistle-blowers.”
In 2001 Dr Mattu exposed the cases of two patients who died in crowded bays at the old Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry as a result of cost cutting measures. He also raised other related serious concerns about patient safety. The £70,000-a-year cardiologist was suspended on full pay in 2002, and falsely accused of bullying in an attempt to discredit him. In 2010 Dr Mattu was sacked by University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.
Dr Mattu, an internationally renowned academic cardiologist, was headhunted to his hometown, Coventry, to help establish a new Medical School at Warwick University. On noting many serious dangers to patient safety and avoidable deaths at UHCW he repeatedly raised concerns with hospital and NHS managers, but they fell on deaf ears.
Dr Mattu began raising concerns about patient safety in writing and in meetings in 1999. Specifically he was concerned that the hospital’s new ‘five-in-four’ policy – a cost cutting strategy to place five beds in bays designed for four – was putting patients’ lives at risk. Dr Mattu and two senior nursing colleagues lodged an official Serious Clinical Incident report after a 35 year old patient died because nurses could not reach him with vital lifesaving equipment whilst he was being resuscitated due to the bay being overcrowded. Additionally he highlighted that the transfer of Birmingham heart patients to Coventry, which resulted in the delay of operations for Coventry patients, led to mortality on the waiting list.
In 2001, after continued serious failings by management including poor leadership, dangers to patient safety, and shortcomings in proper use of resources, the consultants in the cardiac department passed unanimous votes of no confidence in the clinical director and directorate manager. Dr Mattu’s colleagues elected him as the replacement clinical director, but this was refused by the CEO – despite his asking the department to select their new clinical director.
Despite the Trust’s management ignoring concerns about patient safety, a clinical governance review by the Commission for Health Improvement (now the Care Quality Commission) listed a number of serious criticisms and found that the hospital had a far higher death rate than expected. The review condemned the ‘five-in-four’ policy, demanding it be stopped immediately, and warned of a ‘culture of fear’ created by senior managers when dealing with staff raising complaints. However the Trust’s Chief Executive refused to end the practise of ‘five-in-four’.
The disturbing findings in the CQC report on UHCW NHS Trust in Coventry make Mid-Staffordshire Hospitals NHS Trust appear safe and a good hospital. The CQC was highly critical of safety at the Trust and demanded an immediate end to this dangerous overcrowding and found UHCW also had an astounding excess death rate of 60%! More than twice the excess death rates later found by the CQC at Mid Staffs at 29%.
Professor Brian Jarman and colleagues at Imperial College London found that UHCW Coventry had an astonishing 3500 unexplained deaths, compared to about 1200 at Mid-Staffs.
The Tribunal found the CQC criticised the harmful culture amongst UHCW managers to harass doctors and nurses “Clinical risk management is seriously undermined by the fact that some senior staff feel intimidated and threatened by senior managers after raising concerns about clinical practice, equipment or procedures [C73].”
The then Chief Executive, David Loughton, publicly denounced the findings by the CQC and denied overcrowding was associated with deaths or harm to patients. With the Trust failing to respond to the concerns of Dr Mattu, or those of the Commission for Health Improvement and the Department of Health, the hospital was subsequently issued with a zero-star rating by the Department of Health. When a reporter at the BBC approached Dr Mattu for comment about safety and avoidable patient deaths, he sought advice from the Medical Protection Society, the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council, and was advised to go public. Dr Mattu courageously whistleblew about deaths at UHCW related to managers overcrowding patient bays, at a time the CQC. This led to the start of a twelve year witch-hunt by the NHS to oust Dr Mattu.
The Tribunal found Mr Loughton made the open threat “Don’t worry, as far as Raj is concerned, we are not worried about a parking ticket, we want to get him off the road completely.” Within weeks, managers had suspended Dr Mattu using an uncorroborated falsified allegation of bullying. His persecution included UHCW management sending more than 200 false allegations against him to the GMC.
Mr Burley, Chief Executive at South Warwickshire NHS Trust, was amongst senior managers raising false complaints against Dr Mattu, and he told the Tribunal he interpreted Dr Mattu raising whistleblowing concerns about dangers to patient safety as him trying to remove Mr Burley from his job.
Whilst under oath before the Tribunal Mr Loughton had to admit he had lied and known all along about the patient deaths Dr Mattu had raised related to overcrowding.
Despite a belated disciplinary inquiry in 2005, chaired by Andrew Stafford QC, recommending that Dr Mattu be reinstated, the Trust continued to refuse to reinstate him and commenced a further disciplinary hearing against him seeking his dismissal.
The Tribunal found the unjust suspension continued even though UHCW’s chairman admitted “there were no material grounds upon which the suspension could be justified.”
The prolonged stress caused by the witch-hunt of Dr Mattu by the Trust had caused an existing disability he suffered with to be exasperated, resulting in prolonged hospitalisation and major lung surgery.
Dr Mattu, with the support of the Medical Protection Society and Indian Workers Association, then sought protection from the court to try and compel the Trust to comply with its procedures and informed the Trust of Dr Mattu’s intention to bring discrimination claims, based on disability and race, against the Trust.
Consequently, in July 2007, the Trust decided to lift Dr Mattu’s suspension, but did so to prevent legal proceedings and avoid significant damages for the admitted detriments caused by his discrimination. Accordingly, Dr Mattu abandoned his legal proceedings. It took Dr Mattu a year from having written confirmation from the Trust that it would reskill him and return him to his position at the hospital to commence the training he required.
Finally, in March 2009 the General Medical Council dismissed the allegations of bullying against Dr Mattu after a prolonged investigation into over 200 wide-ranging allegations against the cardiologist from the Trust.
However, despite the Trust supposedly having completed all procedures involving Dr Mattu by 15 April 2008 and the General Medical Council closing its file on the matter in March 2009, correspondence between the Trust’s board shows it continued to plan to try and oust the cardiologist from the hospital. This campaign was executed with attempts to obtain Dr Mattu’s resignation and by downgrading the level of reskilling the Trust would provide – meaning Dr Mattu would be prevented from returning to his original position. Dr Mattu experienced increasing hostility from the Trust management and eventually in October 2009 raised grievance procedures against Richard Kennedy, the interim medical director.
The Trust failed to investigate the grievance within the required time period, allowing Mr Kennedy to raise counter allegations against Dr Mattu over the same matters. The Trust then proceeded to seek the dismissal of Dr Mattu in December 2009 through a new disciplinary procedure based on further false allegations before it investigated his grievances. The allegations related to the cardiologist’s reskilling and breach of confidentiality to the media.
Under renewed false allegations, Dr Mattu’s health again deteriorated and he was forced on sick leave in February 2010. Although the Trust knew that exacerbation of Dr Mattu’s illness requires three to six months to show improvement, senior managers refused to make genuine reasonable adjustments to allow him to recover his health. Instead the Trust conducted a disciplinary hearing in Dr Mattu’s absence in November 2010 – whilst he was hospitalised – and summarily dismissed him.
The Tribunal had found UHCW Chief Executive, Mr Andrew Hardy, guilty of acting unlawfully and of disability discrimination in unfairly dismissing Dr Mattu by using a disciplinary hearing in his absence knowing he was seriously ill in hospital, and of repeatedly refusing to postpone the disciplinary process whereby he and senior UHCW managers wilfully denied Dr Mattu his right to take part and defend himself.
The Tribunal added, “We concluded that in all the circumstances of this case, dismissal was not within the band of reasonable responses.” In finding against Mr Hardy and senior Trust managers at UHCW, the Tribunal said, “we concluded that both the investigatory report and the conduct of the disciplinary hearing were outside the band of reasonable responses. Therefore, whilst Mr Hardy undoubtedly held the belief that the claimant was guilty of gross misconduct, that belief was the result of an unreasonable process. It followed therefore that it was not a reasonable belief.”
Mr Hardy, who is an accountant by training, remains in-charge at UHCW, whilst Dr Mattu is left without a job, career, and livelihood, burdened with debt in trying to defend himself.
The 15 year long case of NHS whistleblower, Dr Raj Mattu, finally ended with UHCW Chief Executive Andrew Hardy and senior managers being found guilty of discrimination and unlawful treatment of Dr Mattu, and the Birmingham Employment Tribunal awarding Dr Mattu £2.5 million compensation from UHCW.
Managers at UHCW have reportedly wasted about £14 million of tax-payers’ money on prolonged victimisation, discrimination and smearing the heart specialist. Having apparently haemorrhaged £10 million persecuting Dr Mattu, it is estimated UHCW managers have now wasted about £1 million at the Tribunal on defending senior NHS Managers who acted unlawfully and discriminated against him and more than £2.5 million on compensation.
Dr Mattu says “I am grateful to Employment Judge Pauline Hughes and the Tribunal for their efforts in the interests of justice during the final 3 years of our 15 year nightmare. The welcome award sadly does not cover our huge debts from this drawn out trauma.”
Dr Mattu and society have paid a huge price. For 14 years, the public has been deprived of his excellent medical care and pioneering research and innovation
The Tribunal emphasised “The claimant did not cause or contribute to his dismissal and we shall not reduce the compensatory award when it is made.” The biggest blow suffered by Dr Mattu is the Tribunal finding “It will not be possible for the claimant to resume his career as a Consultant.” due to the unrelenting actions against him by managers at UHCW causing him to become deskilled and his reputation wrongly sullied.
Dr Mattu says:
“Lessons must now be learnt from my case so there can never be any repetition of NHS managers being able to be guilty of the kind of gross or unlawful misconduct directed at me by Mr Hardy and senior UHCW managers. By failing to investigate my safety concerns and never involving or interviewing myself or the two senior nurses present at the death of my 35 year-old patient in an overcrowded bay, the NHS rejected very important opportunities to learn and improve. It is hardly surprising that just 3 years later patients were again overcrowded at Mid-Staffs Hospital and fatal consequences were also observed there. NHS leaders must now act to protect patients ad whistleblowers, and engage whistleblowers in helping guide improvements in our NHS to protect patient safety.”
“The unlawful actions by Mr Hardy and UHCW managers has sadly taken its toll by ruining my health and the lives of my family, friends and me. Having done the right and proper thing in speaking out to protect patients, NHS leaders have allowed UHCW management to subject us to an ordeal that has denied us enjoyment of normal living, caused delay in starting a family, prevented me from pursuing my doctor’s vocation that I so loved, destroyed my career and now ended my livelihood and left us burdened with debts.”
“The ability of clinicians to protect patients and to always act in their best interests is seriously undermined by my gross mistreatment and the unwillingness of NHS chiefs to intervene to ensure just and fair treatment of whistleblowers. This clearly sends out the wrong signal. I urge Jeremy Hunt and Simon Stevens to meet with me and now look for meaningful intervention and change that materially protects patients and whistleblowers in our NHS.”
UHCW remains amongst the worst culprits of excesses and unimaginable brutality against whistleblowers that is emblematic of many NHS Hospital Trusts, where Managers continue to act out of control in the absence of effective scrutiny or proper processes to hold them to account.
As seen in the ongoing case of Dr Mattu, chiefs in the NHS and DoH continue to allow reckless managers to abuse authority with impunity, and misuse scarce NHS resources on vindictive campaigns to silence and oust brave whistleblowers who are seeking to protect patients and the public against dangers to their safety and lives. There is a deliberate attempt to cloak whistleblowing cases as employment disputes using many and varied false allegations or alleged breakdown in relations over Trust and confidence.
What became clear in the course of the legal case was that the Trust had been helped and supported by supposedly independent health agencies, the Strategic Health Authority and the Department of Health.
The SHA and health regulators have been advised by Professor Sir Brian Jarman and his team at Imperial College London that over 3,500 excess deaths occurred in Coventry surrounding Dr Mattu’s public interest disclosure compared to around 1,200 excess deaths that occurred at Stafford Hospital, which led to a Public Inquiry. Dr Mattu believes that awareness of his treatment is most likely to be the cause behind why there was subsequently no medical whistle blower at Stafford Hospital.