The cavalier approach of some NHS trusts to spending public money to defend the indefensible is in the news again. When the JusticeGap reported Elliot Browne was awarded almost £1m for unfair dismissal and racial discrimination earlier this year, his former NHS employer vowed to appeal. The trust did not deny that Mr Browne had been wrongfully dismissed but disputed the claims of race discrimination and victimisation arising from his claims of race discrimination. These grounds for appeal were all the more remarkable given the evidence of institutional racism in employment presented to the tribunal.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal has just dismissed the appeal, endorsing the original tribunal decision as being based on ‘careful findings of fact’. In doing so the EAT noted Elliott Browne’s treatment occurred ‘against a background in which the trust was unconcerned by statistics that showed black employees were many times more likely to be dismissed than their white colleagues’. As I previously reported, the evidence of institutional discrimination was overwhelming throughout their employment processes.
It now turns out that not only had the trust spent almost £72,000 fighting the original tribunal case, but it has spent nearly £14,000 on its hopeless appeal.
The trust said it was ‘disappointed’ with the EAT decision but it had commissioned an independent review of its ‘equality and diversity processes’. Yet even a cursory examination of the trust’s own published employment data for the last five years would have demonstrated fundamental concerns.
Untroubled by wasting money on an indefensible tribunal defence in Mr Browne’s case, trust HR director Derek Welsh remarkably lost another major tribunal in the same week. Another Manchester tribunal held the very same trust had acted unlawfully in withholding incremental pay rises from 83 staff who took ‘too much’ sick leave. The tribunal heard cases that included a nurse denied a pay rise because of a period of absence following emergency surgery after contracting appendicitis and a medical technical officer who was physically assaulted and sent home by the trust’s occupational health nurse as being unfit to work
The Trust claims it ‘takes its responsibilities as an equal opportunities employer extremely seriously’. The proof of this claim will be whether trust HR director Derek Welsh or deputy chief executive and chief nurse Gill Heaton, who created an ‘intimidating atmosphere’ for Mr Browne, still have their jobs in a few months time.
Roger Kline is a trade union official and co-author of a forthcoming book on ‘challenging poor practice and its management’ in health and social care
Roger works as a trade union official for Aspect the children's service union, the seventh trade union he has worked for. He also writes extensively on the staff duty of care in health and social care. He has a long history of representing whistleblowers and staff facing discrimination in health and social care.