TOP health bosses were “malicious and capricious” in targeting a child psychiatrist who blew the whistle on an abuse case, a tribunal has found.
Consultant Dr Antoinette Geoghegan was subjected to “uncompromising and oppressive” treatment in her role with Northumberland Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS).
Dr Geoghegan, who has depression and ADHD, raised concerns about dwindling staff levels and an at-risk child being discharged. She later took Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust to an employment tribunal for unfair treatment.
Now, in a damning judgement, it has been found that bosses failed in their duty of care and allowed Dr Geoghegan to suffer unfair treatment for blowing the whistle “in good faith”.
The tribunal heard how in July 2009, Dr Geoghegan stepped in when a young girl was discharged and approached her parent to discover she was being abused.
Then, in an action described as “singling out [Dr Geoghegan] for oppressive and unjustified criticism”, the intervention was classed as a “serious untoward incident” while managers opted not to investigate the original decision to discharge the girl.
The tribunal found that Dr Geoghegan was first targeted after she highlighted a lack of staff in 2007 after the team began to take patients between 16 and 18. After a hearing in Newcastle, employment Judge Gerald Johnson found Dr Geoghegan, who took time off due to work-related stress, was at the centre of a “continued course of discriminatory and less favourable treatment”.
He identified a “clear causal connection” between the consultant blowing the whistle and her unfair treatment.
He added: “The detriment suffered by the claimant included her isolation by both senior and junior work colleagues, the exacerbation of her mental condition, her inability to properly perform her duties and eventually her enforced absence from work.”
Dr Geoghegan was later referred to the National Clinical Assessment Service as managers claimed there were concerns about her work.
Then, in what the tribunal saw as a “remarkable about-face” the referral was withdrawn after Dr Geoghegan sent a six-page letter to the body about her case. The findings could mean Dr Geoghegan is due to compensation after another hearing later this year.
Judge Johnson also criticised key staff who gave evidence.
Dr Suresh Joseph, the trust’s executive medical director, was found to be “far from impartial” during his evidence, displayed “an alarming lack of sensitivity” and was “completely out of his depth in dealing with personnel matters”.
Judge Johnson added: “The tribunal found that Dr Joseph’s evidence was tainted by his desire to protect those managers subordinate to him and the way in which they dealt with the claimant.”
Dr Barry Chipchase, consultant psychiatrist, was “authoritarian and domineering”.
Dr Carole Kaplan, the consultant’s line manager, regarded Dr Geoghegan as “unnecessary irritant” and was also “less than candid” with the tribunal.
A spokesman for the Trust said yesterday: “We pride ourselves on being a good employer and the vast majority of issues or concerns raised by our members of staff are dealt with both promptly and appropriately.
“Unfortunately in this case the issues go back a number of years and the fact that we were not able to resolve this employment matter internally, to the equal satisfaction of both parties, comes with much regret.
“We are now considering the judgement to understand what lessons we can learn and ensure that, as her employer, we fulfil our duty of care to Dr Geoghegan.”