Senior Surgeon at Royal United Hospital Bath Takes Employer to an ET After Being Sacked For Raising Safety Concerns

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Photo Credits - Marcelo Leal via Unsplash

In recent developments at the Royal United Hospital Bath, a senior surgeon, Serryth Colbert, has taken his employer to an Employment Tribunal (ET).

This was after the surgeon’s dismissal for raising safety concerns. The case shows the challenges faced by whistleblowers in the healthcare sector and raises questions about the hospital’s handling of such matters.

The Case – Royal United Hospital Bath

The saga began when the BBC reported on the concerns raised by Serryth Colbert. Colbert is a senior surgeon in Bath criticising the way the hospital deals with whistleblowers. According to the BBC, Colbert claims that he was sacked after attempting to address wrongdoing. He was also bringing attention to patient safety issues at Royal United Hospital Bath.

Serryth Colbert joined the Royal United Hospital Bath in 2015 and was at one stage the lead consultant in the oral and maxillofacial department. He spoke out about various serious allegations related to patient safety. He reported instances of unsafe use of anaesthetics and x-rays by a dentist, leading to disciplinary action. Further, the senior surgeon in Bath also raised concerns about a colleague treating private patients using NHS resources.

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However, the most significant concern Colbert brought to light was in November 2020. He alleged that the department was “chasing targets” by prioritising routine tooth extractions over cancer cases. To him, this can potentially cause delays in treatment for at least 300 patients. This assertion was supported by other doctors who shared similar concerns about the hospital’s decision-making process.

The senior surgeon in Bath, in line with his professional principles and oath to “first, do no harm,” raised these safety concerns without considering the potential impact on his career. He stated, “It was never a question in my mind. This is wrong. I’m stopping the wrongdoing. I stand for justice. I stand to protect patients.”

Further Responses

The BBC report suggests that the Royal United Hospital Bath responded by investigating Colbert, ultimately leading to his dismissal for gross misconduct in October 2023. The hospital, however, has a different narrative. It contends that Colbert’s dismissal was not related to whistleblowing but was a result of “significant concerns about bullying.” Which was following a thorough and robust investigation into his conduct.

The Royal United Hospital’s spokesperson stated, “We strongly support all staff, patients, and families to raise concerns with us so they can be investigated and dealt with fairly. We have never dismissed anybody for raising concerns and never will.”

The BBC has highlighted the complexity of the situation, indicating interpersonal clashes among staff members. Colbert asserts that he faced repercussions due to his outspoken nature. His dismissal, according to the hospital, was a result of sustained bullying behaviour towards colleagues.

What Happened Next

A cultural review, commissioned by the hospital and conducted by a former police detective, raised questions about Colbert’s conduct and recommended an investigation into allegations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour. The review, only partially redacted, seemed to focus largely on Colbert himself, with its findings leading to his dismissal.

Colbert has disputed the findings of the cultural review, claiming that it did not adequately address the concerns he had raised about patient safety. The redacted version made it challenging to ascertain if his whistleblowing claims were thoroughly examined.

The hospital’s response to the BBC report also included information about actions taken in response to concerns raised by Trust staff years ago. These concerns, communicated through the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, highlighted issues with behaviour and culture in the Oral Maxillofacial Service. An initial review identified problems requiring formal investigation.

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In light of the ongoing dispute, the Trust has mentioned legal proceedings initiated by Serryth Colbert against them. The Trust asserts that they have successfully defended against Colbert’s claims in the High Court. The judgment, referenced as Colbert v Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust [2013] EWHC 1672 (KB) (04 July 2023), supports the Trust’s position.

Royal United Hospital Bath Case- Moving Forward

Despite the legal victory, the hospital’s statement acknowledges that Serryth Colbert has taken the matter to an Employment Tribunal. The Royal United Hospital in Bath refrains from commenting further at this stage to avoid prejudicing proceedings.

From this, the challenges whistleblowers face within healthcare institutions are very evident. Further, Colbert’s dismissal is raising questions about the adequacy and fairness of internal investigations. The Employment Tribunal will play a crucial role in determining the legitimacy of Colbert’s claims and whether his dismissal was a consequence of genuine concerns for patient safety or, as the hospital contends, a result of bullying behaviour.

In the coming months, as the Employment Tribunal proceedings unfold, it will become clearer whether the Royal United Hospital Bath adhered to fair and just practices in its handling of Serryth Colbert’s case. The outcome of this case may have broader implications for the treatment of whistleblowers and the accountability of healthcare institutions in addressing concerns raised by their employees.

Redmans Solicitors and their team of expert employment lawyers can offer advice and guidance on employment law matters, including unfair dismissal. Contact their employment law specialists today!

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