16 apr 2016
Prof Narinder Kapur was dismissed as a consultant neuropsychologist and head of neuropsychology at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge after voicing his concerns.
A tribunal ruled that he had been unfairly dismissed, yet he was never reinstated.
Amid growing concern over the treatment of those who try to raise safety fears, Sir David Nicholson, the head of the NHS, promised in March to personally intervene in cases where whistleblowers suffered harm to their careers.
Yet a letter discloses that when Mr Kapur pleaded for his help shortly after he made his pledge, Sir David wrote to him saying that although the hospital trust’s actions were unacceptable, there was nothing he could do.
Stephen Dorrell, chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, said he was concerned about the allegations, and on Friday wrote to the trust’s chief executive to demand an explanation.
“I was very concerned to hear about this case because on the face of it, it raises very serious questions about what happens when attempts are made to examine safety risks”.
Prof Kapur, 63, who now works as visiting professor of neuropsychology at University College London, has now called for greater protection for people in his position.
“I raised my concerns about staff shortages and the impact on patient care several times to my line managers,” he said.
“I had a duty to do so on behalf of my patients, but I was repeatedly ignored by the hospital senior management.
“They refused to pay any attention to me. If that can happen to a professor like myself, with a worldwide reputation in his field, imagine what happens when more junior members of staff try to raise the alarm.”
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS trust (CUH) dismissed Prof Kapur in 2010, claiming there had been a breakdown in their relationship because of his management style and working methods.
It also suggested he had been involved in fraud involving hospital funds.
But last July an employment tribunal ruled that he had been unfairly dismissed.
The tribunal found the trust “did not conduct itself as a reasonable employer in this regard” and it condemned its attempt to accuse Prof Kapur of fraud.
In its judgment, the panel stated: “There is no question whatsoever of Dr Kapur doing anything other than manipulating a financial system in order to ensure that his patients’ best interests were fulfilled in circumstances where he was dissatisfied with the resources at his disposal.”
It added: “The tribunal condemns unreservedly the way in which the NHS has conducted itself in respect of this allegation. It proved unwilling to accept without some probing by the tribunal that the position was now closed and Dr Kapur was not found to be involved in activity that could be categorised as fraudulent.”
However, the tribunal found that Prof Kapur had not been sacked because of his whistle-blowing, but because there had been “an irredeemable breakdown in trust, confidence and communication” between him and other managers.
For that reason, the tribunal did not order the trust to reinstate him.
Prof Kapur claims that standards of care and patient safety at Addenbrooke’s appear not to have improved.
Sources have told him that in January, a section of a surgeon’s glove was left inside a patient after an operation. It is thought to have led to a potentially serious infection.
The professor claims that the hospital failed to report the incident to the regulatory authorities, as it is required to do. He has now reported it to the Care Quality Commission and Monitor, the health care regulator.
Furthermore, he claims there were eight similar cases — classed as “never events” — in 2011-12 alone.
Talking exclusively to The Telegraph, Prof Kapur said he was determined to continue speaking out on behalf of NHS whistleblowers.
He said: “Many whistle-blowers are forced to give up because it becomes so hard to continue. Some have nervous breakdowns or they can’t afford financially to carry on.
Some even kill themselves — and I’ve come close to that at times — because they appear to have no support against an aggressive employer.
“But I’m fortunate. I have the determination, the knowledge and the resources to be able to carry on. What’s more, I’ve got a moral imperative to stand up on behalf of other whistleblowers.”
Faced with raising £300,000 of tribunal costs, Prof Kapur had to sell his family’s home in Southampton. He has also had to cash in his pension.
He is bitter that his attempts to bring problems at Addenbrooke’s to light have been met with indifference — if not outright hostility — by some senior NHS managers.
In his letter, Sir David said that his hands were tied, as Addenbrooke’s and CUH were separate bodies from the Department of Health, and so responsible for their own employment arrangements.
“But unless people like me stand up and fight this injustice and unfairness things will never change,” he said.
A CUH spokesman said: “We completely disagree with Narinder Kapur’s assertions that the neuropsychology service is not providing a high-quality and safe service to our patients.
“Patient safety is at the heart of everything we do, and we are fully committed to and strongly encourage a culture of open reporting about any aspect of patient care.
“Although the tribunal found that the trust had not followed exactly the right procedure to dismiss Dr Kapur, it concluded that he would have been properly dismissed shortly afterwards and that 75 per cent of the responsibility for his dismissal lay with him.”
Addenbrooke’s said it had not experienced any “never events” since August last year and that it won the Dr Foster award for lower-than-expected mortality rates last year.
The trust said that because the fragment of glove found in the patient was so small, the incident was not preventable and did not qualify as a “never event”.