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Whistleblower was unfairly dismissed, tribunal finds

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 05 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:310
  1. Caroline White
  1. London

An employment tribunal unanimously ruled last week that the “whistleblower” who alleged that a London teaching hospital had “fiddled” one of its performance target figures, had been unfairly dismissed.

But the tribunal, which took seven months to publish its verdict, nevertheless decided that had the dismissal procedures been conducted fairly; that there was a “100% chance” that Ian Perkin, former finance director of St George's Healthcare NHS Trust, would still have lost his job; and that he “had contributed to his dismissal to the extent of 100%.”

The tribunal said that the dismissal was unfair because the trust had not followed the correct procedures. When it had set up a disciplinary hearing, it had not appointed an appropriate person to chair it, and it had failed to observe the ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) code of practice for dealing with dismissals.

Mr Perkin, who started working for St George's Hospital, London, in 1986, became finance director of the trust in 1993. He was sacked in December 2002, following suspension from duties and an internal disciplinary hearing.

Mr Perkin took his case to the employment tribunal on the grounds that he had been sacked for whistleblowing rather than his management style and “can't do attitude,” as claimed by the trust.

After concerns raised by a junior member of staff, Mr Perkin alleged in October 2001 that the trust had deliberately falsified its figures on cancelled operations. He had also criticised NHS financial arrangements.

During the hearing, the trust's chief executive at the time, Ian Hamilton, claimed that Mr Perkin had raised the issue of cancelled operations as a “red herring to detract from the real issues in respect of his management style.”

In a statement issued last week, the trust said: “The tribunal's verdict is clear. Mr Perkin's dismissal was not due to allegations he made about cancelled operations statistics, nor to criticisms of the NHS finance system, nor indeed for any other reason save that his style of management had a serious adverse effect on the running of St George's.”

Evidence presented to the tribunal shows that various concerns about Mr Perkins's management style had been voiced by senior colleagues, including an external financial auditor, between 2000 and 2002.

But Mr Perkin insists that at no point was he formally advised of these. However, the tribunal concluded that on the basis of the evidence presented, Mr Perkin must have been aware of how he was perceived.

Mr Perkin told the BMJ that, although pleased that the tribunal had found in favour of unfair dismissal and had upheld his technical competence, he was therefore “staggered” not to have been offered reinstatement or compensation. “My chances of employment in the public sector have been ruined,” he said.

He is meeting with legal and union representatives next week to consider grounds for appeal.

A spokesman for the trust said: “We have spent a great deal of time on this. Our job is to improve patient services, and we would be very grateful if we could be allowed to get on with that job.”

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