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Top medical director criticised by tribunal after attempted ‘humiliation’ of sacked doctor

Published on: 23 Aug 2022

One of the top medical directors in the North West has been heavily criticised by an employment tribunal, after a doctor who was unfairly sacked was then offered her job back on lower pay.

An employment tribunal has found the offer from Manchester University Foundation Trust to rehire the doctor was “laced with spite” and “designed to humiliate”.

The tribunal criticised several leaders at the trust, including medical director Jane Eddleston, who is one of the most high-profile medics in the region and featured in one of the televised government’s briefings during the covid pandemic.

Professor Eddleston also jointly leads the acute medical director group for Greater Manchester, and is a former Department of Health adviser.

The tribunal followed an incident in April 2018, when Gillian Watts, a consultant gastroenterologist at Wythenshawe Hospital, was accused of pushing and shouting at a colleague.

The judgment, which was sent to the parties earlier this month, said Dr Watts had apologised and that her colleague did not wish to pursue the matter, but managers held a series of informal meetings and invited staff to give their views on the incident, which was then progressed to a formal investigation. 

Dr Watts was also accused of refusing to see patients during a clinic, although the tribunal found extra patients had inexplicably been added to her list.

Flawed investigation

In a “wholly inappropriate” move, the judgment said Richard Montague, who is still medical director for the Wythenshawe site, appointed himself as the case manager despite having little to no case management experience or training.

It said he was not independent to the case, nor came to it with an “open mind” due to having been involved in preliminary investigations and a previous disciplinary in 2013.

The tribunal found the investigation was “tainted” by the actions of Mr Montague, as well as case investigator Andrew Bentley, and Charlotte Vaughan, an HR officer who produced transcripts from earlier meetings.

According to the judgement, the transcripts included a “significant number of serious and important inaccuracies”, while Dr Bentley was also criticised for failing to have an “open mind”.

The trust’s entire approach to the disciplinary process, and Dr Watts’ subsequent dismissal, was “unreasonable in all circumstances”, the tribunal found.

Reprehensible offer

Following her dismissal for gross misconduct in November 2018, Professor Eddleston chaired an appeal hearing which upheld the dismissal, but told Dr Watts she could return to work if she accepted 12 months’ final written warning, as well as a “punitive measure” of being stripped of clinical excellence award points.

The judgment said the non-negotiable offer amounted to Dr Watts losing a minimum of £12,000 per year, while any back pay due would not include a seniority pay increase, costing a further £18,000. The tribunal deemed the non-negotiability of the proposals “reprehensible”.

Employment judge Batten said: “Given the applicability of nationally negotiated terms of service including such pay rises, it was apparent that Professor Eddleston was also acting beyond her authority in this regard.”

After Professor Eddleston told Dr Watts she was “disappointed” the terms had been rejected, the judgement said: “Professor Eddleston’s reply was specifically and dishonestly couched in terms of the situation being [Dr Watts’] decision, when in fact the [trust] had behaved oppressively in its approach to [her] possible return to work and had presented her with terms which were effectively impossible to accept and then blamed [her] for not accepting everything proposed.”

Employment judge Marion Batten added: “They [the proposals] were specifically designed to penalise [Dr Watts] financially, to secure her humiliation in front of her colleagues and junior staff over several years going forward, and were laced with spite on the part of the [trust’s] management.”

Dr Watts’ complaint of sex discrimination against the trust was not upheld.

An MUFT spokesman said: “This process took place four years ago, so we have already learned a number of lessons, but we are of course carefully reviewing the judgement for any additional points.”

Dr Watts, who is now a locum consultant gastroenterologist at St George’s Hospital in south London, was approached for comment.