Pregnant doctor wins £4.5m after NHS ‘hounded her out’

Dr Eva Michalak at a Leeds employment tribunal. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Dr Eva Michalak at a Leeds employment tribunal. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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HOSPITAL chiefs have been ordered to pay mammoth compensation totalling £4.5m to a leading doctor who was hounded out of her job for deciding to have a baby.

Eva Michalak will never be able to work as a doctor again after enduring five years of harassment and false allegations from senior doctors at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust before her dismissal in 2008.

An employment tribunal has already ruled she faced unlawful sex and race discrimination but yesterday announced record damages worth £4.5m.

The sum is so large it will exacerbate a financial crisis already engulfing the trust which runs hospital services in Wakefield, Pontefract and Dewsbury. It is battling to make £31m in efficiency savings and has warned it needs a £14m bail-out to balance the books.

In a coruscating judgment, the Leeds tribunal said it had been “outraged” at the way senior staff at the Mid Yorkshire had behaved.

It awarded more than £1.1m to Dr Michalak for past and future loss of earnings, plus £660,000 for loss of pension. She was given damages for injury to feelings and psychiatric injury, while exemplary damages were also made against the trust. More than £100,000 was awarded for the costs of her care and medical treatment. Nearly half the award will be paid in tax. Dr Michalak had claimed damages of more than £9m.

The tribunal was given medical evidence she was suffering from continuing mental problems including chronic depression and anxiety. Her personality had changed owing to the severe stress she had suffered. It concluded she would never work again as a doctor, “a profession which she...cherished together with all the status that that brings with it”.

It was unlikley she would ever completely recover and would be “extremely vulnerable” to further attacks of depression.

The tribunal had heard evidence her husband Julian DeHavilland, who represented her at the hearings, had been forced to give up work to care for her and was constantly worried about the safety of both his wife and young son. She was unable to carry out everyday tasks or follow simple instructions and was reluctant to leave the house.

The Polish-born doctor, 53, told the tribunal her life had been made a “living hell” by her bosses after she left Pontefract General Infirmary in 2003 to have her son. She was subjected to a campaign in which she was falsely accused of bullying junior doctors and suspended repeatedly before finally being dismissed for no reason in July 2008.

Colleagues devised their plans after they had to cover her work while she went on maternity leave. Secret meetings were held, beginning when she was seven months pregnant, where it was agreed by her head of department, Colin White, and another senior staff member that she would be seen to be being supported while in reality trying to end her employment.

The trust’s medical director, David Dawson, whom the tribunal described as a “self-acknowledged liar”, launched an investigation and on the advice of another doctor, the decision was taken to suspend her in January 2006.

A doctor appointed to independently investigate the complaints warned the claims of bullying would be hard to prove but the suspension dragged on for two-and-a-half years while further “evidence” was gathered before Dr Michalak’s eventual dismissal in July 2008.

The trust’s then director of human resources, Dianne Nicholls, even signed a false witness statement after Dr Michalak took the trust to the High Court. The tribunal has said one of the “most astonishing features” of the case was that three of the members of the disciplinary panel which decided to dismiss Dr Michalak – current chief executive Julia Squire, former non-executive director Suzy Brain-England and Nick Naftalin, an independent member of the panel – arrived at the decision “without having any apparent understanding as to why they were doing that”. In yesterday’s judgment, it said the trust had “abused” its powers over the suspension which continued “unlawfully” and amounted to “oppressive arbitrary or unconstitutional action by servants of the Government”.

It had been tempted to make specific awards for damages against individuals in order to relieve the burden on the public purse but legal precedent prevented that. Instead it made the trust, Dr Dawson, Dr White and Mrs Nicholls “jointly and severally liable” for compensation. It reported Dr Dawson no longer worked at the trust, Mrs Nicholls had been demoted and no longer worked there and Dr White had faced disciplinary action but resigned before any sanction could be placed on him.

The Mid Yorkshire previously admitted Dr Michalak had been treated “appallingly”. It had referred allegations about her conduct to the General Medical Council but is now believed to be urging it not to proceed.

Last night Dewsbury MP Simon Reevell said: “I’m appalled that there was the sort of regime allowed to exist that allowed behaviour that results in damages of this magnitude. For there to be an environment at a workplace where the sort of attitudes were such that this could have happened is astonishing. I hope those responsible will now be pursued so that all of this money rightly awarded can be recouped for the taxpayer.”

Trust chief executive Julia Squire said: “We have only just received the... decision on the compensation and this is based on very complex and lengthy calculations. We will need time to carefully consider these.”