HOSPITAL bosses have spent more than £400,000 in public money on a long-running dispute with a senior doctor – with the bill facing taxpayers likely to soar even further as the wrangle escalates.
The row began three years ago after an incident at Airedale Hospital, near Keighley, when a patient suffered severe and uncontrolled bleeding following an emergency caesarean section.
NHS bosses accused consultant obstetrician Liz McMillan of giving conflicting accounts of what happened and at a disciplinary hearing issued a final written warning.
Her appeal was rejected but when managers indicated they planned to press for the sanction to be increased to dismissal, she took legal action. In a High Court ruling with implications for other employers, a judge found Airedale NHS trust had no powers to increase the penalty against her.
Now the Yorkshire Post has established the NHS trust has so far paid £320,000 for replacement staff to cover for Miss McMillan since she was excluded on full pay from duties in November 2010, and spent £110,000 on legal fees.
The bill to the public purse could increase further following a decision by NHS chiefs to appeal against the High Court ruling, while Miss McMillan, a former Army captain could pursue a claim for damages.
Miss McMillan joined the trust as a consultant in 2008 with a special interest in complex foetal medicine and was made deputy medical director in 2009.
In a judgment, Judge Brendan Hegarty QC, sitting at the High Court in Manchester, said she had an “unblemished” career record before what he described as the “unfortunate events” leading to the legal action. She had been given a clinical excellence award days before the caesarean section was carried out on the patient who developed rare complications. She made a full recovery.
Following an investigation by managers, Miss McMillan, who has denied claims against her, was accused of giving conflicting accounts and of failing to provide a full and honest account.
A disciplinary panel decided to issue a final written warning. It was also decided to refer her to the General Medical Council, although she remains registered to work.
She appealed against the disciplinary findings but after another hearing which upheld the claims against her, she learned managers planned to press for her dismissal.
The judgment said management contended her conduct amounted to “a breach of trust which was fundamentally incompatible with her continued employment”.
“It asserted that, as a result of this episode, consultant colleagues and professional clinical leaders had lost trust and confidence in her.”
Miss McMillan withdrew her appeal before a decision had been taken. She sought an injunction preventing the appeal hearing from reconvening, to restrain the trust from increasing its disciplinary sanction and made a claim for damages.
In his ruling in June, Judge Hegarty said an employer’s disciplinary panel had no power to impose a heavier sanction following an appeal.
He said the right of appeal was conferred on employees solely for their benefit.
He granted her an injunction restraining the trust from reconvening the appeal.
Airedale NHS Foundation Trust said it had now sought permission to appeal against the High Court judgment.
Keighley MP Kris Hopkins said he had been briefed about the case. “I will comment in more detail once these procedures have concluded.”