The East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust breached its own internal illness policy when managers sacked a doctor at Stevenage's Lister Hospital, who had PTSD and had been drunk at work, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Vladimir Filipovich, a doctor in trauma and orthopaedics, had worked for the NHS trust for 20 years when he was sacked in 2019. 

By the time of his dismissal, Mr Filipovich, 60, had conducted more than 25,000 operations without any deaths occurring.

Mr Filipovich was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a result of working as a trauma doctor on the frontline in field hospitals in the conflict in Bosnia, where he was exposed to severely injured and dying patients.


As a consequence of his PTSD - a recognised disability - Mr Filipovich said he experiences flashbacks, memory loss, exhaustion and an inability to concentrate.

"He described in enormous detail some of the things he had witnessed and the images he described were almost impossible to imagine," the employment tribunal said.

In January 2017, Mr Filipovich attended work smelling of alcohol, and a blood test found him to be 3.5 times over the legal limit for driving.

Mr Filipovich was placed on sick leave, facing allegations of being drunk at work, of failing to disclose his PTSD [for two months], and of failing to take his medication.


A disciplinary hearing was postponed, with "a long delay" before it was rearranged, the tribunal heard. During this delay, Mr Filipovich reached the age of 60, which meant he was no longer eligible to be given ill-health retirement.

"At no point did anyone from the [NHS trust] point out to [Mr Filipovich] that if he wanted to apply for ill-health retirement he must do so before he reached his 60th birthday, and this was despite their illness policy stating ill-health retirement should be considered where a practitioner was unwell," the tribunal said.

Mr Filipovich admitted being under the influence of alcohol at work, explaining "he had drunk some alcohol to try and sleep".

This was not the first time he had been under the influence of alcohol at work. In 2014, blood tests showed he was twice the legal limit for driving. He was suspended and had restrictions to practice imposed.


The tribunal found there was "a wholesale failure" by the NHS trust to undertake a reasonable investigation, and "a complete failure" to follow their own internal illness policy.

The NHS trust "failed to follow their own procedures and abandoned any attempt to obtain an updated medical report" on Mr Filipovich's PTSD diagnosis, the tribunal found.

"Any reasonable employer conducting a reasonable investigation would have obtained an up-to-date medical report to ascertain if his ill-health had affected his behaviour," it said.

"Where an employee faces the loss of his whole occupation and reputation in his field at the age of 60, meaning he will never work again in his field, we find the reliance on irrelevant and out-of-date medical records was outside the range of any reasonable investigation that any other reasonable employer would have carried out."


The tribunal also said "there was a wholesale failure to investigate the flimsy and unsubstantiated allegation" that Mr Filipovich had failed to take his medication.

The NHS trust had "abandoned" its own illness policy, it said, and "appeared to simply take legal advice about dismissing [Mr Filipovich]".

It said if the illness policy had been followed, the NHS trust may have decided to give Mr Filipovich a non-patient facing role, so the issue of the safety of patients would have fallen away.

Mr Filipovich's claim for unfair dismissal was upheld.

A spokesperson for the NHS Trust said: "The trust accepts the employment tribunal findings and, since this time, a revised sickness absence policy is now in place.

"The judgement contains valuable feedback and lessons which continue to support us in improving staff experience through formal matters relating to absence, capability or disciplinary. We are unable to comment further at this time."