A bizarre tribunal hearing on the treatment of Epsom’s health trust’s sole woman cardiologist

Dr Usha Prasad.

Dispute could last a decade

Last week by Zoom I attended a tribunal hearing – just one in a long running saga between the Epsom and St Helier University Trust and their former consultant, Dr Usha Prasad.

This dispute which is by no means over – she has already had one employment tribunal, one employment appeal tribunal, a reference back to the original employment tribunal – and has still to go to a General Medical Council hearing and an another tribunal over her unfair dismissal claim.

The hearing took I attended just one day but it felt to me that I had just stepped into an unreal world of interminable hospital politics. The issue goes back to 2012 and won’t be settled until 2022. And all this, by the way, is being funded by the taxpayer using NHS funds.

Dr Usha Prasad is a well qualified cardiologist who has been popular with patients but ran into difficulties with staff at the trust and complained she was subject to gender and racial discrimination, bullying and harassment. There are also whistleblower issues which are yet to come out at another hearing.

Three years ago she featured in the current trust’s chief executive’s report for receiving a Patient First Gold Badge award for giving ” a wonderful extra five years of life” to an 81 year old patient suffering heart disease. She is pictured here with chief executive Daniel Elkeles.

Dr Usha Prasad with the trust’s chief executive Daniel Elkeles at the award ceremony Pic credit: Epsom and St Helier University Trust

Behind these happy scenes however all was not well. Usha felt she was not being treated well by some of her fellow male colleagues and relations between her and her junior doctor Dr Aran Kumar Perikala were strained.

Anonymous letter sent to Jeremy Hunt

The centre of her complaint surrounded an anonymous letter which turned out to have been sent by him in 2015 to Daniel Elkeles, the chief executive, the Care Quality Commission, the General Medical Council, and to Jeremy Hunt, then health secretary and to one of her patients. It was signed as representing the entire cardiology team at St Helier Hospital and made very serious allegations that Dr Prasad was putting patient safely at risk.

Jeremy Hunt.

She saw this attack by a fellow Indian doctor as sex discrimination and also as racist. It went to an employment tribunal headed by employment judge Katherine Andrews (more about her later) and her complaint was rejected. She appealed to an Employment Appeal Tribunal who upheld three of the letters but said that sending an anonymous letter to a patient and to Jeremy Hunt was going too far. The EAT ordered it to be referred back to the employment tribunal which held a hearing last week.

The hearing was unbalanced from the start. The trust was represented both by a barrister and a solicitor at enormous public expense. She appeared as a litigant in person ( funding herself) but was helped by Philip Howard ,a part time consultant at St Helier, who acted as Mackenzie friend, a pro bono role.

The part time judge, Katherine Andrews -a solicitor – was appointed as an employment judge by Chris Grayling when he was Lord Chancellor in 2013. Coincidently Grayling is also the Tory MP for Epsom and Ewell and is familiar with the workings of his local health trust.

Judge rules clinical judgement is irrelevant

From the start the judge brusquely limited the hearing to the contents of the letter and nothing else. Two other consultants at St Helier, Dr Sola Odemuyiwa, and Dr Ranjit Shail, a consultant physician, who wished to testify about Dr Prasad’s abilities were ruled as ” irrelevant” by the judge as they had no detailed knowledge of the letter. She ruled as ” irrelevant” any discussion about the clinical judgement of Dr Prasad. An issue that her brother in law, Dr Anand Kamath, working as a NHS dentist had committed suicide after being bullied by a primary healthcare trust over a complaint about his record keeping ,when this started, was also deemed to be ” irrelevant ” by the judge.

This left Philip Howard a very limited role to help defend her. His description of the circumstances of Dr Perikala writing the letter were illuminating. He told the hearing that he wrote the letter while all the other consultants were on holiday, did not consult them about it and paid a ” rare” home visit to one of her patients without her knowledge. He was only unmasked when the chief executive thought the entire cardiology department were of that view and other consultants objected. He told the tribunal that the patient had received excellent treatment and had no objections.

You would have thought that he would be the key witness that should be cross examined about why he acted alone and what his motive was. But the hospital trust’s lawyers did not call him and the judge ruled that as it was his belief it didn’t matter whether he was right or wrong. In other words the man can say anything he liked to a lot of important people and as long as he believed it, it didn’t matter a jot.

Not a level playing field

The trust has taken the matter to the General Medical Council where his behaviour could be questioned and certainly the issue of clinical judgement will not be brushed aside there.

The judge ruled against her but she has asked for the whole matter to reconsidered because she has received new information. Some of the time was spent arguing that she had missed legal deadlines to present new information. Given one side is using full time professional lawyers – and she is having to bring a case while still working elsewhere for Mid Yorks Health Trust – on loan from Epsom and St Helier University Trust. – it is hardly a level legal playing field.

Since the first tribunal hearing in 2017 she has effectively been suspended by the trust on full pay and faced losing her job. There are still two hearings to go.

One has to ask why the Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust is spending so much time and taxpayers money on this protracted dispute rather than using the cash to treat patients. When I earlier raised this with the trust they said they didn’t discuss issues about individuals working for them. They have also refused to give me details of how much taxpayer’s money they are spending on disputes.

This story is not over and I shall return to it when there are more developments.

31 thoughts on “A bizarre tribunal hearing on the treatment of Epsom’s health trust’s sole woman cardiologist

  1. #TaxpayerAccountabilityNOW! #Impunity #Corruption #FoxesRunningThe Henhouse
    “One has to ask why the Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust is spending so much time and taxpayers money on this protracted dispute rather than using the cash to treat patients. When I earlier raised this with the trust they said they didn’t discuss issues about individuals working for them. They have also refused to give me details of how much taxpayer’s money they are spending on disputes.

    This story is not over and I shall return to it when there are more developments.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Appalling. Thank you for running this article.

    On Tue, 22 Dec 2020, 4:45 pm Westminster Confidential, wrote:

    > davidhencke posted: ” Dr Usha Prasad. Dispute could last a decade Last > week by Zoom I attended a tribunal hearing – just one in a long running > saga between the Epsom and St Helier University Trust and their former > consultant, Dr Usha Prasad. This dispute which i” >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know Dr Prasad as friend and colleague. I and a senior eminent British cardiologist have been supporting her cause for sometime. It is astonishing that what was initially an anonymous complaint has led to a chain of events culminating in the dismissal of a small, female doctor of Asian descent. It smacks of bullying, victimisation and other behaviours doesn’t it?
    Something is seriously amiss in this story. It needs to be exposed. It’s heartening that a respectable journalist has taken an interest (we tried unsuccessfully to get others involved). Let’s hope justice is done. Sadly I’m not optimistic. We will continue to support Dr Prasad in any way possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In the time of crisis when the NHS needs all their best staff; Dr Prasad should be re-instated immediately and NHS should stop wasting tax payers money on infighting; rather they should resolve any discriminatory practices in a positive manner.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dr Prasad was the cardiologist who looked after my father’s care 5 years ago. Despite initial tests showing nothing remarkable, she had a “sixth sense” and knew something was wrong from the symptoms he was exhibiting. She persevered with further tests and he was eventually found to have 5 blockages and had heart by-pass surgery to correct this. If she had not been so thorough he would almost definitely have had a heart by now. My family and I cannot be more grateful to her for her professional skills and patient care.

    Thank you for bringing this case to light-I will also be writing to the Trust. Surely this is a gross error of judgement?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. David, I am reading this in disbelief, what a catalogue of errors!

    Is there no leadership or accountability within the NHS? How can we allow this senior doctor to get into this position? It is wrong on so many levels. Add to that, we have a blank cheque for the legal profession versus a single lady – how is that fair? Something clearly stinks here, and it is obvious the Trust will spend any amount of money to ensure the truth is obfuscated. At a time when we need all skilled ”hands to the pump”, I am left furious.

    The Trust, and GMC need to get round a table and support the doctor and move to resolution as a matter of urgency. It is obvious the doctor is of good character, and she must have hundreds, if not thousands of “good news stories” from patients she has treated in the past.

    I am sure, if this drags on for many more years, the lawyers will be the only “winners” and we will ultimately lose a good skilled medical resource.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. System reform is urgently required. Dr. Prasad is an honorable person and a competent cardiologist. She combines the caring and committed doctor with a gentle person who gives comfort to her patient by simply talking to them. The lack of tact and accountability by many doctor/manager personnel holding powerful positions and pure managers in our NHS is very disturbing. They come up with a bogus case and create confusion against dedicated doctors. They disturb their life and cause pain and misery to them and their families. Instead of the doctors in the middle of this focusing on their job, they put aside much of their time trying to defend themselves losing by that, time, money, and sleep. The cost to the taxpayer’s money reaches millions of pounds every year.
    Every decent member of the medical profession and the public should come together to fight this terrible disease which will result in the failure of the NHS, a decline in services, poor morale, and dismay amongst the medical workforce. At a time the GMC is calling retired doctors to volunteer to help the overstretched medical workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic, psychopaths were allowed to drive decent and committed doctors out of the workplace. This is disgraceful and should stop now.
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally agree with the views! Thank you David for highlighting the case, sadly this is just a tip of the iceberg. The problem is becoming a culture and will lead to many talented lives destroyed professionally and personally unless a robust system is in place.
      Need to be looked into, why majority of these members come from BAME community ? who are well known for their diligent, empathetic service for NHS over many years.
      SS

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sadly, such cases are all too common in the NHS. I have published articles on such issues, and this is a link to my latest article, which appeared in the Health Service Journal. https://www.hsj.co.uk/workforce/we-need-better-sanctions-for-those-who-fail/7029122.article
    My websites also have related resources, http://www.abetternhs.com…www.clinicalexcellenceuk.com
    Prof Narinder Kapur, consultant neuropsychologist, University College London

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Top cardiologists back Usha Prasad’s fight against ” badly behaving ” health trust | Westminster Confidential

  10. Bullying in the workplace sickens me. There is never any need for it, it destroys people’s lives and careers and so often it’s just swept under the carpet and allowed to continue year after year. When coupled with racist or sexual bullying it’s even more insidious and even less forgivable. How does one anonymous complaint receive so much attention yet the complaints of bullying are ignored? It’s as though the NHS and other private companies say to staff once an individual reaches a level of seniority then they may do as they please and the organisation will back them no matter what. It’s disgraceful.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This investigation seems to be hugely unfair, unbalanced and lopsided ! It clearly smells of misuse of power, spending huge amount of taxpayers money, by these NHS managers chasing their egos! This culture has to change which victimise people based on sex, ethnicity, colour & age! I do hope some sense prevails & this difficult period for Dr Prasad is over soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Clearly external, independent experts should be involved in the resolution of such cases.
    Furthermore it is complete disgrace that in this day and age whistleblowers in a major public institution are not protected.As we can see in this case, and as per other comments, this leads to bullying, cronyism and other mismanagement practices.
    Of what use is the BMA if cannot protect it’s members – why are they not offering more support and pushing for much needed change in management practices.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Many thanks for writing this article David. Anybody who knows Dr Prasad, and the work that she has done, will know that not only is she one of the most intelligent, talented figures in world cardiology, but that she is strongly admired for her integrity, compassion and remarkable drive to help her patients. It is no surprise that some of the biggest names in the industry have spoken out in her defence; she is quite simply a crucial asset, having a track record of saving lives where others have failed to do so. By turning on her, the Trust are not only shooting themselves in the foot, they are comprising their healthcare for future patients. Put simply, this whole ordeal, and the outcome of the tribunal, is nothing short of delusional. Unless there is either gross incompetence of the absolute highest order on display here, I can’t help but think that something underhanded is going on. I grew up as a fond admirer of the law and I am privileged to live in a country where we can live under a respectable legal system, but after this situation has come to light I’m not so sure anymore. What happened to seeing some sense and doing what is right? Because we’re not just talking about one person’s life here, we’re talking about the 170,000 who die of heart and circulatory related diseases a year. How does Daniel Elkeles sleep at night knowing this is going on in his own backyard, but simply chooses to turn a blind eye? Instead, our taxes will continue to fund the Trust’s multi-million pound legal expenses in their quest to destroy a sole individual’s career, whilst tens of thousands lie in ICU’s across the country, watching on, and the rest of the population hauled into a lockdown to “support our NHS”.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I was appalled to hear how Epsom Health Trust has treated Dr Prasad. It is utterly disgraceful. Is this the NHS, the so called “caring profession?” They need to reflect on their behaviour and be accountable for the stress caused to her.

    I hope they can provide support and resolve the situation without causing any more stress to Dr Prasad.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Bullying in the workplace sickens me. There is never any need for it, it destroys people’s lives and careers and so often it’s just swept under the carpet and allowed to continue year after year. When coupled with racist or sexual bullying it’s even more insidious and even less forgivable. How does one anonymous complaint receive so much attention yet the complaints of bullying are ignored? It’s as though the NHS and other private companies say to staff once an individual reaches a level of seniority then they may do as they please and the organisation will back them no matter what. It’s disgraceful.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I am absolutely disgusted by this and I thank you for writing this article David. I have done some research and Usha Prasad sounds like an extremely reputable Doctor. Her case is backed up by many other famous cardiologists and she has received countless positive reviews online. It baffles me that she is being treated this way by the company whom she has been so loyal to. Absolutely ridiculous!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Exclusive: General Medical Council investigation exonerates Dr Usha Prasad of any medical failings | Westminster Confidential

  18. This is an absolute disgrace. How dare the Trust behave in such a high handed and vindictive manner with no transparency whatsoever. This appears to be a perfect example of justice not being done but being used instead to achieve an objective and to close ranks. I find it I’ll luminating that Dr Usha Prasad is the Trust’s sole female cardiologist. I wonder whether her (male) junior doctor might have struggled with having a woman ‘above’ him, but that’s my personal opinion. When I – a woman – applied to medical school back in the 70s, the teaching hospitals only took 10% women but 90% men. (The Royal Free was the notable exception, and took 50/50). As it turned out – not least because of the deep rooted sexism within the medical profession -I became a barrister instead, also a sexist environment at the time, but with a looser working structure which have women slightly better opportunities than in the hospital system. Sexism continues to this day in both professions and I am disgusted to read of the treatment of this illustrious consultant cardiologist. Shame on you Epsom and St Heliers and all of you involved in using technicalities and heavyweight lawyers to gain the advantage over this woman. May justice prevail.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: Unfit for Purpose: The NHS appeal panel that upheld the sacking of Dr Usha Prasad | Westminster Confidential

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