Threatened surgeon has case reconsidered

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 13 April 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:927
  1. Clare Dyer

    A consultant heart surgeon threatened with compulsory retirement from Killingbeck Hospital in Leeds has dropped a High Court action to try to force hospital management to let him carry out heart surgery.

    Lawyers for Duncan Walker, aged 54, asked Mr Justice Laddie to dismiss his application for an injunction after Stuart Ingham, chief executive of the United Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, agreed to reconsider his case.

    Mr Walker, who sued the trust for breach of contract, sought an injunction allowing him to return to full duties pending the High Court hearing. As a surgeon, he falls into one of the few employment categories where the courts may force employers to allow an employee to exercise skills that would otherwise atrophy.

    In January 1995 Mr Walker sparked off an investigation into another surgeon at the hospital after he reported to the health authority allegations made to him that the surgeon had been bribed for moving a patient up the surgical queue.

    The police investigated and decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. The surgeon was cleared by the hospital management, and managers accused Mr Walker of breaching confidentiality when he held a press conference at which he played tapes of telephone conversations with two patients.

    Mr Walker went on sick leave in February 1995 with septicaemia caused by a rose thorn pricking his finger. After the other surgeon was cleared Mr Walker's colleagues held a meeting and decided that his return to work would cause tension. They cited the decline in referrals to him and concluded that he did not “have a future role as a cardiac surgeon” at the unit.

    The trust insists that the decision to retire him early is based on an audit of his work, which, while clearing him of incompetence, suggested that he should take early retirement.

    Mr Walker's solicitor, Mr John Mitchell, said that the trust had previously indicated that the audit was a only a preliminary one. Mr Walker will be allowed to make further representations before a final decision is made.

    If the decision goes against him he can appeal to an independent panel of experts and ultimately to the health secretary, Stephen Dorrell.—CLARE DYER, legal correspondent, BMJ

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