Hospital Dr News

Sacked surgeon wins unfair dismissal claim

An employment tribunal has ruled that a surgeon was unfairly dismissed after whistleblowing on poor standards of care at a hospital.

Arjuna Weerasinghe is now in line for significant compensation after winning his claim against Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Mr Weerasinghe, 50, raised concerns in 2010 over poor patient care and theatre cleanliness at Basildon Hospital in Essex.

The matter came to a head when vital theatre equipment was unavailable when he performed an operation on a man who subsequently died three days later.

It then took the hospital 14 months to respond to a coroner’s request for information about the case and the initial internal report was altered to remove a sentence exonerating Mr Weerasinghe from any blame.

The original author of the internal report had also been asked by the medical director to provide “a quick and dirty response” which the tribunal said was a request to “get rid of the matter quickly and quietly” and was motivated by the trust being “concerned about…potential exposure to litigation”.

Dr Chanaka Karunaratne, clinical director for surgery, women’s and children’s services, sacked Mr Weerasinge – who was on sick leave due to a chronic chest condition in 2012.

The tribunal heard that Dr Kurunaratne had refused to read a three page report from Mr Weerasinghe’s GP prior to the disciplinary hearing, arguing it would have taken 30 minutes to do so.

This was rejected as “so illogical as to lack any credibility” and it was added that his evidence to it had “changed regularly and in many cases was simply not credible”.

Mr Weerasinghe said: “I believe my public interest disclosures regarding the unavailability of appropriate equipment and material in this case were a major influence in the decision to investigate and then dismiss me.

“It has been a very difficult time for me and my family. The extreme efforts made by senior individuals at Basildon Hospital over the past four years have towards tarnishing my credibility, reputation and professional career has had crippling effects.”

However, a spokesman for the trust said: “We would like to make it clear that the judge concluded that Mr Weerasinghe was not dismissed for raising issues relating to patient care.

“This case relates to allegations at the trust which date back to 2011 and we acknowledge that some concerns were raised about historic practice. However, since this time, the trust has made significant improvements to the services we provide for patients and only last month was rated ‘good’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the NHS regulator.”

On 9 August 2010, Mr Weerasinghe performed a mediastonoscopy operation on a patient. He asked for a mediastinoscopy packing wick (like a tamponade) to stem an extensive bleed but none were available.

Mr Weerasinghe attempted to use a small piece of gauze to staunch the bleeding. A sternotomy and cardiopulmonary bypass was required to locate and close the source of bleeding. Having survived the episode the patient died a few days later in the intensive care unit.

Concerns were raised on the day of the operation and subsequently by Mr Weerasinghe regarding a packing wick not being available and an incident report was submitted – although the trust did not record the death as a Serious Incident.

From December 2011, Mr Weerasinghe suffered a period of prolonged ill health with pneumonia, which could have been hospital acquired. He was subsequently dismissed from the trust.

His lawyer Arpita Dutt, partner at Brahams Dutt Badrick French, added: “The judgment exposes a catalogue of failures by senior individuals in this trust.

“In my opinion, it also exposes a lack of credibility, arrogance and manipulation of processes that have led to unanswered questions around the death of a patient and the loss of a 20 year career for a dedicated surgeon who was seeking to protect patients and carry out his job to the best of his abilities.”

The trust spokesperson said: “Clearly there are lessons to be learned from this judgement and we will be conducting an internal review to focus on any issues which have not already been addressed.”

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