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High-profile racism claim settled by national agency

Published on: 1 Aug 2023

An NHS agency which has been embroiled in racism allegations has apologised to a former employee who brought a high-profile employment tribunal claim.

NHS Blood and Transplant has reached a settlement agreement with Melissa Thermidor, a former BME strategy lead, who brought a case against the organisation last year.

In an email to staff, seen by HSJ, the agency’s deputy chief executive, Wendy Clark, wrote this morning: “We have recently settled a race claim brought against us by Ms Melissa Thermidor by mutual agreement.

“We are grateful to her for raising the issues that she did. We acknowledge that the internal grievance appeal found that she had been racially discriminated against in the course of her employment.”

Ms Thermidor has been a key figure involved in exposing race issues at NHSBT.

As previously reported, a hard-hitting external review found “systemic racism” at one of NHSBT’s main sites in March 2020, after which it pledged to take action.

However, an internal report produced in October 2022, leaked to HSJsuggested there was a failure to implement several key recommendations and alleged there had been “deliberate attempts… to conceal the extent of racial discrimination”.

Last year, Ms Thermidor brought an employment tribunal case against NHSBT, as well as the agency’s former chair and chief executive, Millie Banerjee and Betsy Bassis.

She claimed she was subjected to racism, bullying and poor behaviours from senior staff at NHSBT during a 16-week project around the organisation’s efforts to increase blood supply from black donors.

She also said an internal report into these issues was fundamentally flawed and demonstrated a partisan approach to complaints.

As part of her evidence, she submitted a recording of a conversation between Ms Banerjee and Ms Bassis, which had been recorded without their knowledge. It is unclear whether this would have been admissible in the case, which has now been settled with all parties. Any financial settlements have not been revealed.

Ms Banerjee resigned in 2021, while Ms Bassis left in August last year, ahead of a Care Quality Commission report criticising the agency’s leadership.

Today’s internal email also attached a letter to Ms Thermidor from NHSBT’s chief executive, Jo Farrar, who joined the organisation in June.

She wrote: “Although we haven’t met, I am aware of the important work you did whilst at NHSBT, and the reasons for you leaving.

“I am sorry that the behaviour you encountered from some colleagues during your time with NHSBT fell short of what we aspire to and what is laid out in our code of conduct.

“When you encountered that behaviour, it was not dealt with appropriately. You should not have needed to bring a grievance – your situation should have been addressed with care and a robust, trusted process. Because your concerns were not listened and responded to swiftly, we recognise you felt you had no other recourse than to instigate a legal grievance.

“Once the legal motions have begun, it is very difficult to stop them until a legal agreement is reached with many stakeholders involved.

“However, the process to hear and conclude your grievance has taken far longer than any of us would have wanted and I appreciate your resilience and continued engagement throughout this time. We will learn from what happened and ensure any failings in how we undertake grievance investigations are rectified.”

HSJ has approached Ms Thermidor, Ms Banerjee and Ms Bassis for comment.