The Sunday Herald Helen McArdle, Health Correspondent 21 May 2017
A SENIOR hospital consultant claims she was sacked after complaining patients were being put at risk by a surgeon with suspected HIV.
Dr Sheena Pinion was paid £500,000 over four years in “gardening leave” before eventually being fired by NHS Fife after she warned that another medic, named only as Dr X, who had admitted suffering from a dangerous bloodborne infection, was continuing to carry out inappropriate surgeries.
A court has now ruled in her favour after she took the health board to an employment tribunal over unfair dismissal.
Dr Sheena Pinion, 59, said: “All I wanted to do was to protect patients, and I was sacked as a result. I was let go because I was a whistleblower, not because of the trivial reasons they dredged up after my suspension to use against me.
“NHS Fife wanted to cover up what was going on and they have spent an enormous amount of money trying to keep this all quiet.
“They have destroyed me in the process – my reputation and my ability to work has been destroyed by them. I was a good doctor, it was my life, and they bullied me out of there because I tried to protect patients.”
The saga dates back to March 2008 when Dr X – whose identity cannot be revealed – told Dr Pinion and other senior staff that he had contracted a dangerous blood-borne infection, later revealed to be HIV.
After the doctor revealed his condition, NHS Fife immediately recalled a number of patients Dr X had operated on to test them for the disease. Although the results from the patients came back negative, Dr X was asked to stop carrying out exposure-prone operations.
However Dr X continued to carry out some surgeries and Dr Pinion made a formal ‘protected disclosure’ to NHS Fife in 2010.
She said: “Dr X was still carrying out the kind of procedures which can sometimes cause complications needing to be dealt with immediately by doing an operation – which Dr X could not do without the risk of infecting the patient. I felt it was completely unsafe.”
Dr Pinion believes that bosses never investigated her concerns because Dr X had influential friends.
In 2012, she was suspended. NHS Fife cited reasons such as Dr Pinion speaking over a colleague during a video conference and not responding appropriately to management in the hospital.
Dr Pinion was barred from working for two years but still received around £252,000 in salary. NHS Fife officially dismissed her in 2014, ending a 30-year medical career, but continued paying her while she challenged its decision.
In its recently published ruling, the employment tribunal concluded: “We did not consider that the conduct of the claimant should be properly regarded as ‘gross misconduct’ or that a reasonable employer would be acting reasonably in dismissing the claimant in these circumstances.”
However, the tribunal rejected her claim that she had been sacked directly because of her whistleblowing. Dr Pinion is now appealing to overturn that part of the decision.
She said: “People need to know about this – about the fact that whistleblowers are not protected in the NHS. I will probably never practise again, but I will continue fighting to prove what happened.”
A spokesman for NHS Fife declined to comment.