Consultant’s devastating critique of Woolwich Hospital’s intensive care staffing in Chris Day whistleblower tribunal hearing

Trust lose battle to ban consultant anaesthetists giving factual evidence

Dr Megan Smith, consultant anaesthetist and barrister. Pic credit: https://msmedicolegal.com/

A devastating exposure of the health and patient safety dangers at Woolwich Hospital’s intensive care unit in 2013 and 2014 was made by a highly experienced anaesthetist and lawyer on the second day of the tribunal case brought by Dr Chris Day against the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust.

At the opening of the hearing the NHS trust had tried to ban Dr Smith and another consultant from giving evidence to the judge on the grounds that the information was irrelevant, needlessly extending the hearing and a waste of taxpayer’s money. The trust itself has already spent nearly £1m on lawyers in fighting Dr Day’s whistleblowing claims of understaffing and risk to seriously ill patients at the hospital.

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.”

In her evidence she listed Dr Day’s concerns:

They were:

2.1.1. Doctor patient ratios were inappropriately high and a risk to patients at Woolwich ICU;
2.1.2. ICU trainees who were rostered to cover the ICU (as well as critically ill patients on the wards and in the Emergency Department (“ED’)) had insufficient clinical experience, training, and competence to fulfil a role of such responsibility which put patients at risk and compromised patient safety;
2.1.3. Senior medical supervision of these ICU trainees was inadequate and a risk to patients at Woolwich ICU which put patients at risk and compromised patient safety.

2.1.4. The Respondents’ managers failed to investigate these safety related matters adequately;
2.1.5. The Respondents’ managers provided false information about the claimants protected disclosures;
2.1.6. The Respondent’s managers provided false information to those investigating these safety related matters.

She went on to list the attempts Dr Day to alert people to the problems. They were:

Dr Roberts in a phone call and email on 29 August 2013

Dr Brooke in a meeting on 29 August 2013 and by email dated 2 September 2013;
Dr Harding, Assistant Medical Director for Professional Standards in an email forwarded on 3 September 2013;
Joanne Jarcett, the off-site duty manager, in a phone call and email on 10 January 2014 and a further email on 14 January 2014;
In addition, the Claimant informed Joanne Janett via email on 14 January 2014 that hospital managers were providing false information and were failing to investigate and deal with patient safety issues in the Respondent’s ICU;
Statements made by the Claimant on 3 June to the ARCP panel (which included a senior doctor from the Trust, Dr Harrison) about patient safety at Woolwich lCU, the hospital arrangements for 10 January 2014,
the events of that night and subsequently and attempts by Trust management to discredit him and present the issue as his competence rather than patient safety.”

Dr Chris Day

She then outlined national standards for intensive care units which were in force in 2013 and compared them to the provision at Woolwich Hospital. She said this meant “In general, [the Consultant/Patient ratio should not exceed a range between 1:8 – l:15 and the ICU resident Patient ratio should not exceed 1:8”

She said: “What he [Dr Day] was saying was that at all times when he was working as the resident night time ICU doctor he was expected to cover 18 ICU beds, assess new critically unwell patients on the wards in the hospital and in the ED, and review a list of ICU outlier patients on the wards who had been flagged as potentially requiring admission to ICU and therefore warranted close monitoring and regular review.”

Woolwich Hospital ICU was “prima facie unsafe”

She concluded: “The Respondent’s ICU was, prima facie, unsafe and (if more than a one-off incident) was something that was required to be rectified by the recruitment of more (and in some cases more experienced) junior doctors.”

She then examined the training and knowledge of junior doctors new to working in ICU’s and again found Woolwich Hospital wanting.

“When ICU trainees first begin their training, they are unlikely to possess many (or any) of the core lifesaving skills and competencies that a qualified higher level ICU trainee or consultant possesses. This means that it is completely inappropriate for these trainees to be left alone to manage the ICU out of hours until the department is satisfied that they possess the required levels of skill and competence.

On Dr Day she said: “Doctors with the level of experience that the Claimant had at the time in question
would not have (and would not be expected to have) anything other than basic airway and lifesaving skills. These can save a life as a temporising measure, but definitive airway access (tracheal intubation) and cardiovascular resuscitation have to be secured quickly or the patient will come to harm. These skills (which are routinely provided by the ICU team) are far more advanced and can only be gained by those new to ICU by being taught and fully supervised in performing them until they have achieved a prescribed level of competence (in 2013/2014 the criteria {or such competencies were set out by the Royal College of Anaesthetists” and other colleges.

She severely criticised the lack of supervision at the hospital and the turned to the hospital’s failure to investigate Dr Day’s concerns about patient safety.

Allegations would have been of grave concern

She said: ” The allegations raised by the Claimant would be of grave concern to any medical professional and any serious incident/governance/ risk manager. The primary concern would be for the safety of the patients in the ICU, particularly given subsequent (apparently avoidable) patient deaths. However, the institution ought also to have been extremely concerned about reputational damage and its standing
with those commissioning its services with whom it would have had legally enforceable contractual agreements. I would expect an immediate and thorough investigation to have been initiated.”

She concluded that the press statements by Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust at the time did not show Dr Day’s allegations had been properly investigated.

“it seems to me that the Respondent’s press statements and statements on its own website at best underplay the seriousness of what was occurring in the ICU and at worst were misleading in relation to the same.”

She said :The report that was commissioned in 2014 by the Respondent appears to accept and condone the running of the ICU in breach of expressly stated national standards that were put in place in order to ensure that ICU patients received excellent and, arguably more importantly, safe care. The conclusions of the 2014 report are, in my view, completely at odds with these evidence-based principles and are entirely inconsistent with the principles of the delivery of safe and excellent patient care.”

A second anaesthetist consultant will give evidence on Monday.

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Jeremy Hunt and Sir Norman Lamb back whistleblower doctor’s epic patient safety struggle at a tribunal from Monday

Official portrait of Jeremy Hunt. Pic credit: Parliament.uk

Trust wants to ban two expert anaesthetists from giving evidence for Dr Mark Day

An epic nine year struggle between junior doctor Chris Day and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust over patient safety at an intensive care unit and accident and emergency department comes to a head at 15 day employment tribunal on Monday.

The story began in August 2013 when Chris Day, a junior doctor initially complained about inadequate staffing. It got worse in January 2014 when he was working overnight in the intensive care unit at Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich when two locum doctors failed to show up. He had to cover other wards and A&E and reported his concerns to managers. He saw this as putting patients in such a sensitive area at serious risk.

extraordinary convoluted story

What followed is an extraordinary convoluted story of denial of the problem by the trust, misleading statements, poor investigations, threats of a huge legal bill which led him at one stage to settle the case only for it to be re-opened at a hearing before another High Court judge. There is a detailed blog by Dr Moosa Qureshi on CygnusReports.org which goes into forensic detail of the twists and turns of his case so I won’t repeat all the detail. I recommend you read his account. The costs of the protracted legal action to the NHS trust now amount to little short of £1million

A recent blog on my site looked at one aspect of the case, illustrating what appear to be underhand methods by a former dean at Health Education England to persuade Sir Norman Lamb, then a Liberal Democrat MP, not to pursue Dr Day’s case. Health Education England disowned his action at an employment tribunal and succeeded at being taken off as a party to Monday’s proceedings.

The issue will not go away next week as unusually Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, will give a statement to the tribunal, as a witness for Chris Day.

Sir Norman Lamb

Sir Norman Lamb, also a former health minister, will appear as a witness for Dr Day at the hearing so people are likely to hear a lot more about what actually happened.

Two highly distinguished consultant anaesthetists were also scheduled to give evidence on behalf of Dr Day. They are Dr Sebastian Hormaeche and Dr Megan Smith .

Dr Chris Day

The trust will try during the proceedings to ban them giving evidence.

The case is likely to look at the role of lawyers and also the role of M J Roddis in this case. They were employed by the trust to investigate this case and Dr Day claims they misrepresented his evidence, played down the problems, and omitted some damaging information about patient care.

The tribunal hearing will not be available on line as the court has decided in advance it will be an ” in person” hearing – even though three of the first five days will be held during a national rail strike.

Nor is it likely to be officially recorded. But Chris Day, who is represented by lawyers paid by the British Medical Association, has engaged a Ministry of Justice approved note taking service so there will be a full transcript of the proceedings.

I put some points to the trust and asked them for any comments they might wish to make but officials did not respond.

UPDATE: Since this post was published the employment tribunal has done a U-turn and decided to hold the hearing online which means it will be more accessible to the press and public It will not be held at Croydon, south London as there was not a judge available to preside over the 15 day hearing.

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