Hartlepool Mail Monday, 1st March 2021
A whistleblower surgeon at Hartlepool’s hospital trust was racially discriminated against and suffered harm after raising patient safety concerns, a tribunal has found.
Dr Manuf Kassem, who is Iraqi, took North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust to court over a number of complaints of harassment, discrimination and less favourable treatment by a number of Indian colleagues over a six-year period.
An employment tribunal at Teesside Magistrates’ Court found he was a racially discriminated against, harassed and subjected to detriment for making a protected disclosure (whistleblowing).
The hospital trust says it must learn lessons from the case.
The tribunal said Dr Kassem had ‘seriously upset a number of colleagues’ by raising 25 patient safety issues in 2017.
Dr Kassem joined the trust in 2002 and from 2008 had been an associate specialist surgeon. After a surgeon colleague retired in 2011 Dr Kassem was asked to change part of his role.
In June 2017 he made a grievance requesting an investigation into ‘continuous bullying and harassment, prejudiced and unfair treatment’ dating from 2011 up to May 2017.
A retired consultant surgeon who gave evidence at the tribunal on Dr Kassem’s behalf said there was: “A culture within a culture – a group within a group.”
Dr Kassem named five surgeons he described as being ‘untouchable’.
At a grievance meeting in August 2017 he raised concerns about 25 patients, which was classed as a protected disclosure, whom he alleged had suffered complications, negligence, delayed treatment and avoidable deaths.
It led to Dr Kassem being removed from the emergency on-call rota and coincided with him being made the subject of a disciplinary investigation in September 2018. But none of the allegations he faced were upheld or progressed to a hearing.
The tribunal stated: “The Tribunal has found above that initiating a disciplinary investigation into the claimant’s conduct on 21 September 2018 did amount to direct race discrimination, and an aspect of that was the respondent’s failure to follow its disciplinary procedure that wherever possible there should be informal discussions before formal action is taken.
“As to the complaint of harassment, for similar reasons, the Tribunal is satisfied that this failure did amount to unwanted conduct, was related to race and did have at least the effect of violating the claimant dignity etc; particularly creating an intimidating and hostile environment for him.”
The tribunal said the majority of the colleagues whom the claimant had offended by raising the patient safety issues were Indian, and they were supported by other Indian colleagues in the trust.
A spokesperson from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said: “We take note of the ruling and outcome of the tribunal and will await the outcome from a scheduled hearing at a later date.
“On the extremely rare occasions when cases like this are raised involving staff in the organisation, we must learn lessons and make improvements where appropriate for the benefit of all staff in the organisation and for our patients.”
A claim by Dr Kassem of victimisation and that the trust made an unauthorised deduction from his wages was dismissed.
There will be a future remedy court hearing to decide what action to take.
Last year, nurse Linda Fairhall won a case of unfair dismissal following her sacking by the trust after raising safety concerns.