The victory by whistleblower Dr Shyam Kumar, an orthopaedic surgeon, against his unfair dismissal as an part time inspector for the Care Quality Commission is just the tip of an iceberg scandal at both the CQC and the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.
His victory – I am glad to say reported by the BBC, the Guardian and the medical press- was only possible by his persistence in the face of obstruction by the body that is supposed to hold up standards of medical care to protect patients and the collusion of a trust to protect its own reputation.
He told the BBC: “”The whole energy of a few individuals in the CQC was spent on gunning me down, rather than focusing on improvement to patient safety and exerting the regulatory duties,”
“I was perceived as a troublemaker within the CQC, or as a thorn in their side. That’s what I believe. And they just ignored it. And finally, people got involved.”
The ruling at Manchester Employment Tribunal by Employment judge Mark Butler said he had received detriment for speaking out and awarded him £23,000 for injury to this feelings. Dr Kumar had not sought any other compensation.
The judge said:” There is evidence throughout this case….that the decision to disengage the claimant in this case (and the placing him on hold) has had a serious impact on the claimant’s reputation causing him injury to feelings. There were suggestions of misconduct by the claimant … where no evidence of this existed, and vague assertions of a breach of undefined values of the respondent … used in an attempt to justify the decisions made in this case, after the event” Instead the judge described Mr Kumar as a man with an untarnished reputation and expertise.
Dr X left a hip replacement patient never able to use her limbs
The detail of the concerns Dr Kumar found are deeply disturbing for patients. One involved Dr X whose two hip replacements on an elderly lady which overlooked the dislocation of her pelvis and she had to come back to accident and emergency unable to walk and his colleagues thought she would never be able to use her limbs again. When he raised this with the CQC and said a back review of Dr X’s cases should take place he was told the trust did not want to do this for reputational reasons.
When the Royal College of Surgeons did their own review much later into Dr X they found 26 out of 46 operations were matters of concern.
The judgement said:
a. some surgeries undertaken by Dr X were not completed to an acceptable
b. some of the surgery and quality of care provided by Dr X was unacceptable.
c. some clinical decision making to undertake surgery by Dr X was
d. in some cases there was either no or a lack of evidence of a “Duty of
Dr Kumar was thanked by the associate medical director of the trust , Mr Damian Riley in 2021 for his work.
But at the time of the CQC inspection Dr Kumar faced a barrage of criticism from CQC officials, was effectively suspended from his job, and subject to racist attacks including being accused of being ” a traitor to his community ” for raising issues about Dr X’s competence by another trust doctor, Dr Sinha.
At a CQC focus meeting Dr Kumar was even falsely accused of deliberately creating NHS waiting lists so people would have to go privately – making extra money for doctors.
The CQC’s response was to side more with the trust than the whistleblower. This led Dr Kumar to write to the Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards. complaining that “patient safety is being
significantly compromised by the behaviour of some CQC staff.” He also complained he had been bullied and obstructed by CQC officials, his professional independence had been undermined and his whistleblowing concerns ignored.
The court upheld his protective disclosures. The judge also took a strong line in allowing the press access to all the documents in the case and also restricted an attempt by the CQC lawyers to restrict reporting of the Royal College of Surgeons report on the grounds that families had to be told first. The judge granted a very short restricted reporting period and was never challenged again.
The CQC in a statement said: “We accept the tribunal findings and have learnt from this case. We have already improved many of our processes and will continue to review these based on the findings to ensure we make any further necessary changes.”
Much wider issues than just this case
But there seems to me a much wider issue here about the behaviour of this particular trust and the role of regulation. This is not the first time this trust has been found wanting. There is the case of Peter Duffy, a consultant surgeon, working for the Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust. Faced with failures at the trust in the emergencies department he expressed concern for two patients who subsequently died from kidney sepsis.
One would have expected the Trust to have remedied the situation. Instead they turned on him rather than admit any failings. As he told Matthew Syed on Dispatches: ” I was on the receiving end of allegations of bullying, abuse and racism. And so what I hoped would be an attempt to raise standards became an investigation of myself”.
He was eventually proved right after an investigation disclosed multiple problems but not until after a five year toxic battle and now practices in the Isle of Man.
There is also the 2015 inquiry report by Dr Bill Kirkup into Furness Hospital, run by the trust over the deaths of babies and appalling maternity care.
As he says in his introduction: “The result was avoidable harm to mothers and babies, including tragic and unnecessary deaths. What followed was a pattern of failure to recognise the nature and severity of the problem, with, in some cases, denial that any problem existed, and a series of missed opportunities to intervene that involved almost every level of the NHS.”
There is a disturbing pattern that repeats itself. Whistleblowers, whether doctors or families, raise serious life and death issues, are ignored, denied justice, bullied and attacked, using the power of the state to buy expensive lawyers to try and crush them -only for them to be proved right in the end. With the Dr Chris Day case due to report this month following an extraordinary employment tribunal hearing where evidence was destroyed, it remains to see whether this pattern can start to be broken .
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