Surgeon wins Trust case

A SURGEON suspended from his post at Lister Hospital due to concerns about his conduct was subjected to capricious and unfair treatment by his employers, a judge has ruled. Bernard Palmer, who worked at the hospital from 1983 until his suspension three

A SURGEON suspended from his post at Lister Hospital due to concerns about his conduct was subjected to "capricious and unfair" treatment by his employers, a judge has ruled.

Bernard Palmer, who worked at the hospital from 1983 until his suspension three years ago, sued East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust.

In London's High Court on Friday, the Trust was found to have breached his contractual rights and to have unjustly initiated disciplinary proceedings.

Mr Justice Forbes said the surgeon was entitled to compensation, ruling that the Trust "acted in breach of contract in purporting to withdraw from the assessment process and in seeking to implement a disciplinary investigation".


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The Trust and Mr Palmer, of Pasture Road, Letchworth GC, had reached an agreement whereby its concerns over his performance would be resolved by a professional assessment carried out by the National Clinical Advisory Service (NCAS).

But in August last year the Trust withdrew from the "process of assessment", despite the fact that a "retraining" post had been pinpointed for Mr Palmer at Peterborough General Hospital.

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The judge said Mr Palmer had entered into the assessment process in good faith, and had done "everything within his powers to fulfil his part of the agreement", which the judge added was "legally binding".

His employers' action in "unilaterally terminating the agreement without good reason" was "both capricious and unfair", the judge also ruled.

The court decision entitles Mr Palmer to compensation for breach of contract - to be assessed later - together with an injunction reinstating the assessment process and halting the disciplinary procedure.

The judge said in the past there had been a "somewhat unpleasant atmosphere in the Department of Surgery at the Lister - apparently caused by professional rivalry and hostility between some of the surgeons".

He added: "I accept that Mr Palmer genuinely believes that he has been subjected to a great deal of this unfortunate rivalry and hostility..."

Tensions came to a head in 2003 when Mr Palmer was suspended over concerns that he may have strayed beyond his area of expertise by undertaking a gynaecological procedure, despite his background as a general surgeon.

There were also concerns about "informed patient consent" not being sought or obtained by the surgeon.

Mr Palmer had consistently denied having done anything wrong, maintaining that he always worked within his area of specialisation and insisted on proper patient consent.

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