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Chair had ‘no hint of objectivity’ when judging sacked CEO’s behaviour

Published on: 20 Nov 2023

NHS Blood and Transplant’s chair has been heavily criticised by an employment tribunal over the unfair dismissal of its former chief executive.

The tribunal found chair Peter Wyman failed to ensure proper investigations into Betsy Bassis’ conduct before sacking her, and showed “no hint of impartiality or objectivity” when interviewing staff who had raised concerns about her.

As previously reported, NHSBT fired Ms Bassis in August 2022, after various allegations were made about her conduct including shouting during meetings and making people fearful of raising concerns.

However, a tribunal judge in central London today said the allegations should have been subject to investigations, rather than leading to her summary dismissal. It has ordered NHSBT to pay her around £96,000 in compensation.

Ms Bassis was described as a “very credible witness” who would have had the maturity to address concerns raised about her in an appropriate way, had she been given the chance, the tribunal ruled.

In relation to concerns Mr Wyman received from the Care Quality Commission, the judge said: “[NHSBT] would have been aware from the moment the CQC contacted it, that this was a very serious matter with very serious consequences for the claimant and the reputation of the [NHSBT].

“Yet, it was ready to leap to the conclusion quickly that the claimant should be dismissed, and other than carry out a limited number of interviews…it was not prepared to do more to get to the bottom of the concerns that had been raised.”

Mr Wyman, who joined NHSBT in April 2022 and is still chair, fully understood the CQC’s role, the tribunal heard, as he had previously been the regulator’s chair, so was aware there had only been an inspection of the organisation, not an investigation.

‘Disregard for proper process’

The judge said there should have been an “open and balanced” assessment, but found: “[NHSBT’s] overall disregard for a proper process… fell well outside the range of what an employer in these circumstances should reasonably do. Mr Wyman had clearly made his mind up after his discussion with the CQC.

“On the evidence available to Mr Wyman it seems impossible for [NHSBT] to form a genuine belief that claimant was guilty of the allegations against her.”

A suggestion an investigation was not carried out because of fear of reprisals from Ms Bassis towards staff were “an afterthought to justify the respondent’s decision to dismiss”, the tribunal heard.

Meanwhile, there were “no contemporaneous documents that show the reasoning of the decision to dismiss… or that record the board’s view of the claimant, or even minute the decision to dismiss the claimant”.

The judge added that questions posed by Mr Wyman in his discussions with NHSBT staff “showed no hint of impartiality or objectivity”, and failed to discuss the concerns directly with Ms Bassis.

Along with the CQC and staff feedback, the tribunal heard Mr Wyman was also influenced by his own impressions of Ms Bassis when pursuing the dismissal, but when cross-examined, the judge said he was “unable to give specific examples of issues that had raised the same level of concern that he put in his evidence to the tribunal… In particular, there is no evidence he had challenged those behaviours as and when they had arisen.”

‘Exaggerated allegations’

The allegations against Ms Bassis as were described as “incredibly general” and increasingly “exaggerated” throughout the hearing.

The judge added: “What’s perhaps remarkable about this case is the respondent’s attacks on the claimant’s character increased through these proceedings to a level that appeared to go beyond the original criticism that was levied against the claimant…

“If this was to be a credible strategy, it should at least be accompanied by an investigation or inquiry carried out after the claimant’s dismissal, so there were substantive complaints to respond to.”

He said it was “entirely speculative” to assume the allegations would have been upheld, as NHSBT had argued, adding that criticisms made of Ms Bassis in cross examination “have not stuck”, as she was able to deal with questions put to her.

Ms Bassis joined NHSBT in 2019, having previously been a director general at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, after various senior roles at Centrica and British Gas.

‘Black mark’ against her name

The tribunal heard her sacking had been a “black mark” against her in terms of being appointed to other senior roles, and she felt she needed to clear her name.

HSJ approached Mr Wyman for comment at the end of the hearing, but was referred to a press statement which does not address the criticisms.

A spokesman said: “NHS Blood and Transplant is under the leadership of a new chief executive, we are continuously working to foster a fully inclusive culture where every member of staff is set up for success so we can deliver high quality services that save and improve lives.” 

Mr Wyman was a partner at consultancy firm PwC before joining the NHS, first as chair of Yeovil District Hospital, and then the CQC from 2016 to 2022.

After its well-led review in 2022, the CQC produced a report that was critical of NHSBT’s leadership and culture. NHSBT has been embroiled in allegations around racism and bullying in recent years and also has faced a series of employment tribunal claims recently.