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NHS England’s former HR chief accused of discrimination by ex-director

Published on: 7 Feb 2023

A former NHS England director has accused its former chief people officer of racial discrimination, with a tribunal hearing the CPO ‘did everything in her power to stop a Black woman from progressing’.

The allegation was heard during an employment tribunal hearing today brought by Mike Franklin, NHSE’s former joint equality, diversity and inclusion director, against NHSE and its ex-CPO, Prerana Issar.

Mr Franklin is bringing claims of racial and sexual discrimination against NHSE and Ms Issar to the tribunal. The hearing opened today at Montague Court in Croydon, south London.

Mr Franklin was appointed to the EDI role, jointly with Jenni Douglas-Todd, in summer 2020. He was on long-term absence from about summer 2021 and, the tribunal heard, took sickness absence again in autumn 2022.

Ms Issar, who was born in India, joined NHSE in 2019 and stepped down in March 2022, when NHSE said she was taking time to “recover fully from a covid-related illness”. Her responsibilities included equality and diversity in the NHS and she oversaw Mr Franklin’s work.

On the first day of Mr Franklin’s tribunal today, it heard evidence from Ms Douglas-Todd, who left NHSE last year and is now chair of Dorset integrated care board and University Hospital Southampton Foundation Trust.

Ms Douglas-Todd spoke about an incident where, she said, Ms Issar had blocked a Black staff member, who was not identified, from being promoted to a more senior role.

The tribunal heard “very heated” discussions were held when Ms Issar learned of the prospective appointment, and it was claimed she used words such as “stabbed me in the back,” “went behind my back,” and “you [were] meant to be part of my group”.

Ms Douglas-Todd said Ms Issar “had done everything in her power to stop a black woman from progressing”, and “had an issue with Black people”.

Ms Issar’s representative at the tribunal described Ms Douglas-Todd’s evidence as “gross mischaracterisation”, and that she was frustrated that a key person in her team was leaving without her knowledge, particularly when the NHS was grappling with covid-19, the tribunal heard.

The tribunal also heard how the former chief people officer had brought together the national functions of the workforce race and disability equality standards, respectively, together, was on the committees for appointing Mr Franklin and Ms Douglas-Todd and had hired others from ethnic minority backgrounds to senior leadership roles.

Ms Issar has not yet appeared at the tribunal hearing but is expected to do so remotely.

Sickness absence

Mr Franklin told the tribunal he had gone on sickness absence after formal concerns were raised about his conduct.

He had “hoped for a quick resolution” but began to “feel ill in regards to the proceedings happening at all”, he told the hearing.

During his cross-examination, judges heard Ms Issar’s witness statement in which she felt progress from Mr Franklin was “slow” and that he was either “unresponsive” to requests or tended to forward on juniors’ emails to her.

The tribunal continues.