NHS England’s former chief people officer felt ‘personally attacked’ by a former director when he ‘lost his temper’ with her, she told an employment tribunal, while ‘categorically denying’ she had blocked a promotion based on race.
Prerana Issar said she felt “intimidated” by Mike Franklin, who was NHSE’s joint director on equality, diversity and inclusion, in which he accused her of having made “disparaging” remarks about him to another colleague.
She claimed he “shouted” and gave her “no chance to speak,” before adding: “The only thing I said is, ’we should talk when you were calmer’.
“Even now when I remember [the incident], I’m shaking because it was extremely upsetting.”
Mr Franklin has brought claims of race and sex discrimination against Ms Issar and NHSE to a tribunal, which began on Monday at Montague Court in Croydon, south London.
Mr Franklin was appointed to the joint EDI director role 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.
In proceedings on Tuesday, Mr Franklin alleged Ms Issar was “targeting” him and he was the only director who had been asked for updates on his personal objectives.
Ms Issar told the tribunal this was untrue, and denied she had made the disparaging remarks.
It was unclear during the hearing what was allegedly said, but Mr Franklin claimed in his witness statement Ms Issar said he was “not co-operating” in his teams.
He later had a one-to-one meeting with Ms Issar in March 2021, where the allegations were brought up, before Mr Franklin told the former CPO she should be clear whether she still wanted him in the role or for him to resign.
This is the meeting at which Ms Issar said Mr Franklin shouted at her. She said she had asked him if they should speak again when he felt calmer, and when that might be, to which he replied: “Who knows?”
She said: “Mike was very angry and I was intimidated, I really felt personally attacked. It was not a conversation. He lost his temper at me.
“I could not understand why he was so angry. It was shocking. Forget the fact I was his line manager, he never treated me as his line manager or the respect [one] deserves, I think the professional thing would have been to say: ‘I need to have a conversation with you [about these remarks].’”
Mr Franklin told the tribunal on Monday he had been angry during the conversation “but not aggressive”.
Ms Issar also “categorically denied” allegations made on Monday by another former NHSE EDI director that she had blocked an individual’s promotion, and in doing so was doing “everything in her power to prevent a black woman from progressing”.
She told the tribunal the unnamed person served a critical role in the directorate during the coronavirus pandemic and was in the middle of key projects, and rejecting allegations her concerns were race-related. Ms Issar said the two had a “really good” conversation and the unnamed person chose to stay.
Ms Issar said in her witness statement she was “extremely shocked by these new and baseless allegations”, as she had felt the issue had been resolved.
She added: ”I wholly reject any allegations that I have ‘issues with’ people of any race, as alleged, or indeed any protected characteristic whatsoever.”
The tribunal hearing continues.