16 apr 2016
A cardiologist has revealed he was smeared by NHS bosses and left with his career in ruins after he spoke publicly about dangerous overcrowding at a hospital.
Doctor Raj Mattu, who has been left with a £1.4million legal bill following the dispute, has warned against whistleblowing as he revealed the shocking practices he reported at Walsgrave hospital in Coventry still haven’t been investigated.
In this interview, the 56-year-old describes the ‘terrible’ and ‘humiliating’ experience of being labelled a sexual pervert by bosses desperate to quash his claims as he reveals his life will never be the same.
Doctor Raj Mattu has a blackboard in his loo that says: ‘Now is the time to open some champagne and dance on the table.’
Too true, you might think. For last week, this brilliant cardiologist, who was sacked and vilified by health chiefs for 15 years after exposing shocking NHS failings, won an eye-watering £1.22 million damages in a dramatic victory for free speech.
Finally, it seemed, the once internationally renowned doctor, whose name was dragged through the mud by bosses at the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (formerly Walsgrave Hospital), had cause for celebration.
Dr Raj Mattu, pictured with his wife Sangita, has revealed how he was smeared by NHS bosses after he publicly revealed he was concerned about patient safety at Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry
But when we meet at his modest Warwick home, Dr Mattu, 56, is in no mood to pop champagne corks. Neither is his wife Sangeeta, 43. For the career at which Dr Mattu excelled, as a heart clinician and respected academic, is over. He was suspended after speaking out on overcrowding on Walsgrave Hospital’s wards, which he said led to the death of two patients.
Now, given the trust’s refusal to reinstate him and bring him up to speed on the strides that have been made in his field during his lengthy suspension — a so-called ‘re-skilling’, required by the NHS — an employment tribunal was forced to suggest he take up a post as a science teacher.
Add to this the fact that once he pays the £1.4 million bills he has run up fighting a trust that threw £10 million of taxpayers’ money at the case, he will be £200,000 in debt.
‘If I were able to work in the job I’ve loved since qualifying, I’d roll up my sleeves and work to clear my debts, but I can’t because I’ve been robbed of that opportunity.
‘The Government says it wants to protect whistleblowers, but what they’ve come up with is wholly inadequate. If I’d had children to support would I have put my head above the parapet? I can’t say I would.
The 56-year-old, pictured on his wedding day, went public about overcrowding after the death of two patients at the hospital
‘As things stand, I’d strongly caution anyone against whistleblowing to save them from suffering what my family have had to endure.’
Dr Mattu is not a man given to hyperbole. His chilling words echo the sentiments of a panel of senior doctors who this week condemned NHS treatment of whistleblowers.
In a letter to the Times, Professor Sir Brian Jarman, former head of the British Medical Association, called for reform of whistleblower protection, saying that despite a year passing since the landmark report which ruled whistleblowers would be protected from discrimination, not one healthcare worker sacked for speaking out has been found comparable NHS re-employment.
This appalling state affairs is borne out in Dr Mattu’s case. Before going public in 2001 with his concerns about patient safety at Walsgrave Hospital, Coventry, following two deaths, he had a glittering future ahead of him.
When he was headhunted to work at the hospital in 1997 he was credited with being the first person to report a common mutation in the gene that protects against heart disease and acquired £2.5 million in grants to fund his 12-man research team.
Life, as he says, was good. With his £70,000 salary there were ski holidays, romantic breaks, meals at restaurants, a Mercedes with personalised number-plates, a £600,000 house in Solihull and savings in the bank. Today, he doesn’t have two brass farthings to rub together and is mortgaged to the hilt.
‘This has had a terrible effect on my private life,’ he says. ‘It’s put everything on hold. It’s prevented us from enjoying things we should have enjoyed long ago — marriage [he and Sangeeta eventually wed in 2009], children, the normal activities of life.
Dr Mattu pictured after blowing the whistle on the NHS failures. He was later labelled a pervert and rapist by bosses
‘When I was suspended in 2002, Warwick University decided to stop my research, too.’
He can’t keep the tears from his eyes as he says: ‘Without the trust taking me back and reskilling me, I can’t work as a doctor. No other NHS trust is going to pay for that, particularly with all the smears around me.’
Dr Mattu’s lawyer claims he has faced no fewer than 200 absurd and invented allegations levelled by the trust since speaking out, claims that ranged from bullying and fraud to the completely unsubstantiated allegation of rape — all so groundless that, astonishingly, to this day, he has never been shown details about his so-called crimes.
He says the police have dismissed the claims with scorn.
Yet before blowing the whistle he’d never had a whisper of complaint against him since he qualified at University College London in 1984.
‘But then we didn’t have trusts or managers in charge,’ he says. ‘At Walsgrave there were more managers knocking around than doctors.
‘Half the time I couldn’t work out what most of them were meant to be doing. I remember asking for a stapler because my secretary’s had broken and we couldn’t order it. It took them five months to get one.
‘The trust had glorified administrators with grand titles and limited knowledge of healthcare. The director of medical staffing used to be a telephonist when I was a junior doctor and the director of clinical governance — patient safety — used to be a porter.’
Patient safety was Dr Mattu’s greatest concern. A Labour government drive to cut waiting lists, under the Health Secretary Alan Milburn, prompted a management decision to cram five beds into four-bed bays.
Not only was movement around the beds been restricted, but emergency equipment — oxygen, suction, defibrillation — was installed to service only four beds, not a fifth under a window.
It was, says Dr Mattu, ‘a time bomb’. He and fellow consultants voiced concerns on numerous occasions with everyone from his line managers to chief executive David Loughton, but the practice continued.
‘I knew the moment someone became acutely unwell we wouldn’t be able to do anything,’ he says. ‘One morning my worst fear was realised.’
Dr Mattu was on the ward on December 21, 1999, when a cardiac arrest alarm sounded. He hurried to a bay to find a 35-year-old man slipping out of consciousness.
What happened next is so terrible it continues to haunt him.
‘Normally we take off the bed’s head so we can get round the patient to put lines in the blood vessels and a tube in the lungs. But we couldn’t move the bed forwards because it kept hitting the two other beds.
‘At that time he was pink and warm. I was trying to do all the stuff we normally do. Then, he starts going blue in front of my eyes, bleeding in the gut and vomiting. We try to put the heart-tracing machine on, but we’ve got nowhere to plug it. We’re jumping up and down trying to keep this young guy alive. I use a piece of apparatus to expose his airway and, bang, I’m staring at a huge clot. I ask the nurses for suction. I put out my free hand. No suction. Where’s the suction?
Dr Mattu racked up £1.4 million bills fighting the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, which will not reinstate him
‘The suction tube is a certain length and it’s by another patient’s bed and won’t reach. So then I’m desperately trying to grab the clot with forceps, but they won’t reach.
‘I’m thinking “If I push it down far enough, sacrifice one lung, we can give him oxygen and save him”, but we can’t get the oxygen to him either.
‘I ask a nurse to go to the theatre to get a portable oxygen canister. This guy is now blue and his heart’s stopped. I ask for the defibrillator, but the wires won’t reach.
‘I had to make a decision to wedge the clot down, but we had to wait five minutes before the portable oxygen came, by which time he’s so oxygen-deficient there’s probably very little to retrieve even if we had kept him alive.’ He shakes his head.
Within three weeks there was a second death, again in an over-crowded bay. The management’s response was to put an extension lead on the cardiac arrest trolley.
In February 2000, Health Secretary Alan Milburn boasted to the Commons: ‘The in-patient waiting list is 87,000 below the level we inherited.’
Dr Mattu says: ‘Hospital chief executive David Loughton was oiling the machine for his government paymasters, so Alan Milburn could go on air and say what a wonderful man he was reducing waiting lists. He was railroading every clinician who raised concerns.’
But the concerns were well-founded. In September 2001 a report into the NHS trust by the Commission of Health Improvement (CHI) found it to have a 60 per cent excess death rate, translating into 3,500 unexplained deaths, more than twice as many as those seen during the Mid Staffordshire scandal.
The CHI urged the trust to stop the overcrowding. That evening Loughton appeared on the news to deny any knowledge of patients being harmed as a result of overcrowding.
Short of accusing me of being a terrorist, anything they could think to throw at me they did — rape, sexual assault, fraud, tax evasion
‘I almost choked on my tea,’ says Dr Mattu. ‘I wrote to the Strategic Health Authority saying: “Will you please intervene.” I heard nothing.’ A week later, the trust received a zero star rating from the Department of Health. The BBC asked Dr Mattu to appear on the News. He spoke about the dangers of overcrowding and the campaign against him began.
Within months he was suspended on a trumped-up charge of bullying a member of his research team in February 2002 and accused of waging a campaign against Loughton.
‘From that moment I wasn’t allowed to contact anyone I worked with. It was so humiliating. Then, when I got home, there was just this emptiness and disbelief,’ he says.
‘I didn’t think in Britain, let alone the NHS, anyone could have the ability to misuse their authority in that way. I felt tearful, but I still had the confidence that he wouldn’t get away with it.
‘I had every faith the people in charge would properly investigate my concerns and see the management were putting people’s lives at risk.
‘But from the moment I whistle-blew the trust seemed determined to trash my reputation. I now realise it’s how they silence a whistleblower.
‘Short of accusing me of being a terrorist, anything they could think to throw at me they did — rape, sexual assault, fraud, tax evasion. I was investigated three times in four years by the Inland Revenue.
‘But the most hurtful allegations were the ones that made me out to be a sexual pervert.
‘I had no idea at the time what was being said about me. The charges were never put to me.
‘It wasn’t until many years later when documents were released to me during litigation that I discovered the trust had held secret meetings with the GMC during which they’d made these unforgivable claims.
‘The GMC began to investigate these allegations though the police.
‘In the end the West Midlands police got so fed up with the GMC inquiries they said: “There are no crime reference numbers, no reports. As far as we’re concerned, there is no incident. Why don’t you simply ask the doctor?” To this day I have not been provided with any details of these fabricated sexual attacks.
‘When I received these documents from the GMC shortly before they decided there was no case against me to answer in 2009, my heart sank. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
‘I thought, “How on earth do I tell Sangeeta?” She was very quiet then she said: “They’re some of the nastiest people I’ve ever come across. Why would they want to destroy you and your reputation in this way?” ’
Dr Mattu remained suspended for five-and-a-half years, one of the longest suspensions in NHS history.
It was finally lifted in July 2007 after he took the trust to the High Court. He eventually started reskilling in London in August 2008.
However, once the GMC closed his file the following March, the trust again looked for ways to get rid of him.
A memo, revealed here for the first time, from the HR director to the chief executive, dated April 23, 2009, shows them weighing up the ‘pros and cons’ of dismissing him.
A tribunal ordered £.122m in damages once it was made clear Dr Mattu would never work again as a doctor. Above, the University Hospital in Coventry, which used to be called the Walsgrave Hospital