CREDIT: JOHN NGUYEN/JNVISUALS
A junior doctor has been forced to withdraw whistleblowing allegations against the NHS claiming he was threatened with ‘life-changing’ legal costs if he lost the case.
Dr Chris Day, 32, flagged concerns about understaffing at an intensive care unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich in 2013 but was stripped of his Health Education England (HEE) training number, and forced out of his job.
Dr Day took the matter to an employment tribunal claiming the HEE had destroyed his career, yet was told that as a junior doctor he did not have the same whistleblower rights as other NHS staff, a position overturned by the Court of Appeal earlier last year.
But, after finally being allowed to take the matter to tribunal last month – four years after his initial complaint – Dr Day claims that halfway through his evidence he was warned he would be liable for huge costs if he lost.
Dr Day, said he was forced to accept a settlement rather than risk insolvency.
“After two and a half days of my six day cross examination I was contacted by my legal team and told that the NHS respondents had decided to inform me of their intention to seek costs for the entire four week hearing if I proceeded to cross examine any of the NHS’ 14 witnesses and ended up losing the case,” he told The Telegraph.
“It seems to me that this was designed to affect my ability to give evidence and to intimidate me into withdrawing my whistleblowing claims.
“After completing my six days of evidence, my wife and I, considering our responsibilities as parents, felt that we had no choice but to drop the case.
“I am disgusted at the way me and my family have been treated given that it has now finally been accepted that I was acting in good faith raising important safety issues and that I have performed a public service defending junior doctor whistleblowing protection from attempts to undermine it from NHS leaders.”
Norman Lamb MP said Dr Day had been placed in an impossible position
The HEE and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust have already spent more than £700,000 fighting the case, including paying £55,000 in costs to Dr Day after he won his initial case fighting for the rights of junior doctors to have full whistleblower protection.
Norman Lamb MP, who brought up the case with Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary and current health secretary Matt Hancock has now called for a public inquiry saying Dr Day had not so much been ‘priced out of justice’ as ‘crushed.
“When you have serious allegations relating to patient safety raised – by a person, a whistleblower, who’s risking everything to get them heard – there should be a fair and full hearing.
“What appears to be the case is that Chris Day and his family were put into, in effect, an impossible position – they were faced with a threat of costs, an abdication for costs, which would’ve destroyed them financially.
“It’s an outrageous use of taxpayer money to crush and prevent the full facts of a whistleblower’s case being aired it completely goes against the Department’s talk of openness and transparency,” he said.
Whistleblowers UK also warned that Dr Day’s decision to withdraw would stop other doctors coming forward to flag bad practice.
Georgina Halford-Hall, of Whistleblowers UK said: “The underhand tactic of offering Chris Day a financial ultimatum while he was under oath, and forcing a press statement with a drop-hand settlement, not only silences a whistleblower, denying them access to justice – it will also deter people from speaking out in future”.
The HEE denied it had threatened Dr Day, while the Trust said it ‘did not ask its legal representatives in the case to make a significant cost threat to Dr Day when he was under oath and, further, did not make this request at any point.’
But Bob Matheson, the Head of Advice and Advocacy from the whistleblowing charity Protect said the case highlighted the problem of raising concerns without financial backing.
“There is little value in strong whistleblowing rights in principle, if most of society can’t actually put them into practice,” he said.
“Legal costs for these sorts of claims can often run into the tens of thousands – simply unaffordable for all but the wealthiest in society – and proceeding in a claim without legal support is notoriously difficult.”