The tables are beginning to turn in a seven year battle which has cost £700,000 so far to the taxpayer between Chris Day, an anaesthetist in an intensive care unit ,employed by Lewisham and Greenwich Health Trust.
The case against the trust and Health Education England has been drawn out over seven years at employment tribunals and appeal tribunals. He was forced into a settlement in which he had to withdraw his allegations of patient safety being at risk at the ICU unit at Woolwich Hospital in return for the trust accepting he had genuine concerns as a whistleblower at Woolwich Hospital between 2013 and 2014. The trust , using expensive lawyers, threatened to land him with huge legal bills if he continued and started cross examining their witnesses. The allegations included poor staff ,patient ratios at the ICU and inadequate medical supervision. He also made the same allegations to Health England Education.
Trust forced him to settle by threatening him with huge legal bills
As he said: “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’s14 witnesses and ended up losing the case,”
He had no option but to withdraw to protect his wife and family from bankruptcy should this threat be carried out.
“real prospect of success” says judge
But he has won the right to get the enforced settlement out aside and take his case to the Court of Appeal. In giving judgement the Rt Hon Lady Justice Ingrid Simler DBE stated in the Order of the Court of Appeal that “I consider this appeal has a real prospect of success. Permission is granted”. Simler LJ is a highly experienced Judge and she was previously the President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
Until now he was left with trying to raise money so he could afford to pay the lawyers to fight the trust. In the last week in what amounts to a major change of heart, the British Medical Association has decided to fund his battle. Internal sources say this may be the first time the BMA has decided to fund a doctor in a whistleblowing case.
A BMA spokesperson said:
“Chris’ case has brought into sharp public focus the challenges and adverse experiences which doctors can face when they make public interest disclosures to blow the whistle on safety concerns they identify, in the course of carrying out their job.
“Doctors have a responsibility to raise concerns they have about the safety of their patients and yet too often they are put in the position of having to blow the whistle on organisational failures when the organisation in question fails to act. The BMA’s own research shows a majority of doctors work in a culture of fear and are worried about recrimination if they speak out about patient safety concerns. The BMA has been calling for an open culture, where speaking out is encouraged and supported and where our NHS learns from concerns and errors, to improve safety for patients.
“The BMA carried out a comprehensive external review of its member support services and we are now making significant improvements in how we support whistleblowing cases and indeed all members who raise concerns within the NHS. This includes offering more specialised legal support given the complexity of such cases. We are grateful to Chris and other BMA members for their input to this review. Different processes would have been followed if Chris’s case was to arise today and we are pleased to be able to offer Chris the support he needs in the next stage of litigation in his case as well as in the wider interests of the profession and patient care”.
Chris Day said:
“I am pleased to announce that I will be accepting support from the BMA in the next stage of litigation in my case.
“I have always remained a member of the BMA and it is clear to me that the new leadership at the BMA is committed to supporting me and my family where it is able to do so. The Association has spent considerable time and effort understanding my situation and provided me with expert legal advice as I considered the best way forward.
“I know the BMA has undertaken a great deal of work to consider how it supports whistle-blower cases and it has sought to learn from the past. They have established new arrangements to ensure better support for potential whistle-blowers, including guaranteeing a meeting with a specialist solicitor and case manager that now takes place before any case is considered too weak to proceed or on cases that are initially considered strong enough to proceed where this view subsequently changes.
“I look forward to working with the BMA. The BMA has a critical role in ensuring that no doctor should ever be forced to choose between their career and the safety of their patients and I would encourage every doctor and medical student to join the BMA and take an active role in shaping their trade union. Doctors need a trade union now more than ever.”
Chris Day has also got the support of Sir Norman Lamb, the former Liberal Democrat health minister, who backed him while he was in government. Sir Norman is now the chairman of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust., the neighbouring trust to Lewisham and Greenwich. Despite some concern in the NHS establishment he is to continue to support Chris Day and will be a witness.
Given the dire findings in the Usha Prasad case with Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust, reported in this blog, this development is the best news a whistleblower doctor can get.