Tribunal of the Absurd: My Verdict on the Dr Chris Day whistleblower case

Dr Chris Day

An employment tribunal under Judge Anne Martin has thrown out whistleblower Dr Chris Day’s claims against the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust after an eight year battle about patient safety at the intensive care unit in Woolwich Hospital.

In a bizarre ruling the judge has managed to discredit the evidence of Dr Day’s witnesses, including the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt and two very senior medical experts.

She glossed over the disclosure of the deliberate destruction of 90,000 emails by the NHS Trust, which should have been provided as more evidence of what happened during the eight year long dispute.

She played down false evidence given under oath from the trust’s chief executive, Ben Travis, that there was no record of a board meeting which discussed his case and approved the settlement when a note of the meeting came to light. Evidence here.

She is remarkably sympathetic to David Cocke, the associate director of communications at the trust destroying the 90,000 emails, which is a criminal offence, and accepted the excuses of the NHS Trust to avoid him attending the court where he would be cross examined.

Jeremy Hunt; Official Portrait

She did have the opportunity to strike out the trust’s defence midway through the hearing when it became clear that large volumes of potential evidence had been withheld and destroyed but decided there was enough evidence to continue the case. Now with this judgement we know why – perhaps she didn’t want to hear anything else that would prevent her finding for the trust.

Despite a long rambling 67 page judgement Judge Martin’s findings are as notable for what they omit as much as what they disclose and seems to cast doubt in one instance on the integrity of Dr Day while accepting at face value anything put forward by the trust.

Sir Norman Lamb

Dr Day was backed by two prominent politicians Jeremy Hunt and Sir Norman Lamb, a former health minister. Early in the judgement she disposes of Jeremy Hunt’s evidence by saying ” it relates to what he was told by the Claimant about the protected disclosures he had made. It does not refer to the
statements made by the Respondent which are the subject of this hearing. The Tribunal does not understand why his witness statement was put forward.”

This odd statement by the judge seems to suggest that Dr Chris Day told Jeremy Hunt t what to say – which I find hard to believe. I think Jeremy Hunt can make up his own mind and wouldn’t have given that statement if he hadn’t thought something was wrong. Sir Norman Lamb who was very vocal about the trust’s failings in treating Dr Chris Day – enough to want an inquiry – is said by the judge to have been treated ” fairly” by the trust.

Dr Megan Smith

The two medical witnesses Dr Megan Smith and Dr Sebastian Hormaeche were also dismissed as biased because they were supporters of Dr Chris Day’s whistleblowing activity. In fact Dr Day has never met Dr Megan Smith. She effectively demolished the case provided by the trust’s ” independent” consultant Roddis Associates, that staffing levels at the intensive care unit were adequate by quoting the national guidelines. She told the hearing;“You would not find an anaesthetist or ICU doctor in the country who would accept those ratios. There was a clear and present danger to patient safety – no question about that.”

Yet this fact- it is fact not a campaigning point by Dr Day – is ignored completely.

She said: “I have been a member of my hospital’s Serious Incident Review Panel and am currently the mortality lead for the department of anaesthesia with responsibility for investigating any patient deaths. I am also a practising barristerand I carry out expert witness work (primarily in the field of clinical negligence) for”. She linked Dr Day’s safety concerns at the ICU to the two deaths there.

When it comes to the treatment of Mr Cocke the judge almost turns somersaults to protect his activity. The passage where she describes him shows up her unconscious prejudice in favour of the trust.

“It was Mr Cocke who opened this can of worms. It was he who contacted Dr Harding [one of the doctors that Dr Day raised the issue of the icu) and he who forwarded the emails provided by Dr Harding to the Claimant. He has been open about deleting the documents.

” It was not a situation where he owned up only because he had been found out. This does not strike the Tribunal as the actions of someone who is mindset on concealing documents and lends some credence to his explanation.””

And on his non appearance:”The Tribunal’s view at that time was that considering the medical evidence from Mr Cocke’s GP there was no medical reason Mr Cocke could not give evidence and if he did not give evidence then this was a decision of the Respondent.
Further medical information was then obtained which said that Mr Cocke was too unwell to attend to give evidence. Mr Cocke did not give evidence. On balance the Tribunal is satisfied that Mr Cocke was unfit to give evidence.
“Whilst the members of this Tribunal are not medically trained, it appeared that the apparent contradictions raised by the Claimant were indicative of a progressing mental health issue and this taken together with the irrational act of deleting emails points to Mr Cocke being quite unwell especially as it was he who first provided extra documents that had not been disclosed. We do not doubt that Mr Cocke is ill, but accept that there is no independent medical information explaining the nature of his illness and how it manifests.”

First of all it remarkably prejudicial for a judge to describe the unearthing of documents that should have been provided four years ago in discovery as “a can of worms” and secondly it is remarkable for a judge to decide to excuse a criminal act as a mental health problem. That seems a job for a psychiatrist not a judge who admits she has no medical expertise.

Harold Pinter: Pic Credit: National Portrait Gallery

Pulling this altogether this hearing would make a splendid play for the Theatre of the Absurd – it reads a bit like a plot by Harold Pinter than a serious contribution to judicial case law..

I hope some playwright considers putting together a play or TV drama on Dr Day’s epic eight year struggle for justice for patient safety. It should be dedicated to the two people who unfortunately died at Woolwich Hospital ICU and whom the trust prefers to forget.

I can’t imagine a more fitting place for Judge Anne Martin, Ben Travis and David Cocke to appear than a hard hitting and satirical play at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Note: Dr Day is currently raising cash for a further hearing next month in connection with this case and the involvement of the Health Education England – the link is

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