Repeated Allegations about my Mental Health at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust.
I have provided the Health Select Committee with a number of documents relating to my dismissal as a consultant paediatrician by Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust. I have included in those documents some reference to my employer’s claim that I was or might be mentally ill. Having seen Nina Lakhani’s articles in the Independent newspaper this week about Kay Sheldon’s experience as a non-executive board member at CQC I think it would be useful to provide more details of my own case. It is common knowledge that whistleblowers experience attacks by their employers in the area of their mental health. As my case demonstrates this can be sustained, unpleasant and completely unfounded.
I attach a letter I wrote to my Trust’s chairman on 16 August 2010 which largely speaks for itself. I have provided a few details below.
I was excluded from work in April 2009 after raising concerns about patient safety, child protection and medical and nursing redundancies. Immediately following my exclusion I was sent an urgent appointment to see a psychiatrist against specific NCAS advice and without being forewarned of this. I wrote to the Medical Director to complain but he did not reply. On BMA advice I did not keep the appointment but rang the psychiatrist out of courtesy. I asked what information he had been given as a context for my assessment. He told me that a secretary had made the appointment and he had been left to believe that it was the usual problem with NHS consultants, drink or drugs.
Following my exclusion I obtained from NCAS by Subject Access Request information that the Medical Director at my Trust had provided about me on the day of my exclusion. The Medical Director and another consultant gynaecologist suggested I might be psychotic. They both suggested diagnoses (hypomania and bipolar disease) which were beyond their experience and competence. This was a breach of my confidentiality or worse. The Medical Director I had only seen twice in the previous 6 months and the other consultant was known to be hostile to me. At no time had I been made aware of these concerns. The Trust had not asked me to see the Occupational Health Consultant.
NCAS phone transcripts showed that the Medical Director had made other serious claims about my behaviour which were untrue. If they had been true they should have been raised with me first. They had not been. Nor were they at any future time. These included a claim that I had “written a large number of unpleasant and potentially defamatory emails to the matron.” This was untrue. In the previous year I had only sent the matron one email. It is clear that the Trust believing its communications about my mental health and behaviour were confidential felt free to say whatever it wished whether it was true or not . I was given no right of confidentiality nor of reply in any of these these matters.
I subsequently visited the Occupational Health Consultant (OHC) about the psychiatric appointment. He apologised and told me that immediately after my exclusion the Medical Director had called him and said that I had myself requested a psychiatric assessment. This was untrue as evidenced by my strong written protest to the Medical Director written the day I received the appointment.
I then suffered a series of physical illnesses as a result of the stress of my exclusion including severe eczema, asthma and crystal arthropathy. I returned to work in September after an investigation had decided that I had no case to answer. I then registered a grievance against the Medical Director. I claimed wrongful exclusion and untrue allegations to NCAS about my mental health and behaviour. I included in the grievance that I had received a psychiatric appointment contrary to the specific advice of NCAS and also that the Medical Director had misled the Occupational Health Consultant about this.
Following BMA representations the Trust agreed to an independent hearing of my grievance by a Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Panel. A report which was favourable to me was produced in March 2010. The report made no mention of my mental health issues or the Trusts behaviour with regard to these though I provided full documentation on this. It only concluded that the “consultant psychiatry referral particularly heightened” any pre-existing breakdown between myself and the Medical Director.
I had specifically asked the RCPCH panel to hear the OHC’s evidence to clarify this matter. The report showed he had not been interviewed. I asked the panel chairman, who after the review was given a post in Walsall to help further his management aspirations, about this. He said the panel had not thought it important to interview the OHC. This was a very important part of my grievance. It is for this and other reasons that I doubt the independence of the panel’s work. The Medical Director has been protected by senior management and the RCPCH panel from having to explain his actions.
I had a number of opportunities to speak to the panel chairman in 2010 and he continually made reference to my mental health. On one occasion he told me that while I might not have a psychiatric diagnosis there was widespread opinion among trust managers that I was unhinged. “That is the word they use David, “unhinged.”
The review panel without providing a scrap of evidence had also instructed me to refrain from the use of religious language at work. I am a quiet orthodox Christian who has always lived and worked peaceably with those of other faiths or none. The panel chair called me to his office one afternoon to ask me to accept his instruction on religious references in the workplace. I believed this to be a discriminatory instruction and contrary to employment law and refused. The BMA supported my opinion of this instruction. He then told me that I was the most extreme case of “cognitive dissonance” that he had ever seen. As a paediatric nephrologist he had no competence to make this diagnosis and I told him so. His prescribed remedy was that I read a book, “Mistakes were Made (but Not by Me): Why We justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavis and Elliot Aronson. In the context of this and other conversations I had no doubt that he was conflating suggestions that I was mentally ill or unhinged with my Christian faith. He is an atheist and an enthusiastic advocate for a secular NHS. My advocacy is for tolerant diversity.
In 2010 I was required by the Chief Executive to attend sessions with a clinical psychologist. After several sessions I was discharged. I wrote to thank him. Subsequently the Chief Executive for no obvious reason wrote to ask me to attend further sessions. I replied that since in the psychologist’s professional opinion our business was done I saw no need for this.
In my 16 August letter to the Trust Chairman I asked for help with the perpetual allegations that I was mentally unstable. I informed him that I had self referred through the occupational health service for a psychiatric assessment to provide evidence that I my mental health was good despite the stress I had suffered as a result of my whistleblowing. The assessment had confirmed my own opinion. In that letter also reported for example that the trust press officer had told the BBC that I was “doolalley” in an attempt to discredit me. I offered him a statement from the TV health correspondent to confirm this. The Chairman wrote back to say he regretted he could not take any action on my letter.
I continue to find examples of the way in which adverse references were made about my mental health by anyone who felt confident that they had the Chief Executive’s patronage. At my Employment Tribunal a consultant newly arrived in the hospital in 2009 recounted under oath how he was told by the Divisional Director in his first week that I had had a bike accident some years earlier and that my mental stability had been in doubt since that time. I am quite certain that the only people at Walsall responsible for creating the myth that I was mentally ill were managers. None of my clinical colleagues were involved in this. There can be little doubt that it was purposeful.
This is a problem that whistleblowers encounter in the NHS. It has to stop.
16 August 2012.