Radiologist claims he was 'unfairly dismissed' over exposing racism at hospital

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Weston Hospital has "vibrant" future - but A&E won't reopen overnight - Credit: Weston Area Health NHS Trust

A top radiologist claims he was unfairly dismissed after exposing racism and concerns about patient safety. 

Dr Naveen Bhatt was sacked for gross misconduct after allegedly being abusive towards a colleague and “weaponising” an NHS system for reporting safety incidents to criticise co-workers in the Avon Breast Screening Unit. 

His lawyer, Stephen Butler, told an employment tribunal those colleagues filed a grievance against the consultant radiologist because he raised concerns they had endangered patients. 

Dr Bhatt, who is of Indian origin, also claimed he had been treated differently because of his race. 

Representing the “multicultural” University Hospitals Bristol and Weston Trust, Eleena Misra denied that healthcare professionals would have objected to him raising patient safety concerns and said he was dismissed after an “irretrievable” breakdown of relationships. 

The trust recognised 12 of his 15 disclosures as protected under whistle-blowing legislation. 

Mr Butler told a tribunal hearing on October 28 which Dr Bhatt was unable to attend: “It’s not possible to separate out his concerns about patient safety from the allegations of racism he was making – he explained that the way he was being treated was putting patients at risk. 

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“What was said to be misconduct was making allegations against colleagues who were doing things wrong and that endangered patients.

“The Datix system is designed for that kind of concern. It’s impossible to imagine how those concerns could have been raised without criticising colleagues.”

Mr Butler said a disclosure from June 2018 was about the double booking of patients and a missed lump, and a case in November that year related to wrong mammograms. 

He said Dr Bhatt, then the only consultant breast radiologist in the department, was unaware of his colleagues’ concerns until they were “sprung on him” in disciplinary proceedings and he was offered no opportunity to address his behaviour. 

He told the hearing: “Anything he said in relation to the racism allegation was rejected on the basis he didn’t have any evidence. What evidence could he have had? He couldn’t wave a piece of paper saying ‘we’re treating you differently because of your race’.” 

Dr Bhatt was employed by the Weston Area Health Trust, which merged with the University Hospital Bristol Trust in April 2020 to form the UHBW Trust. At that point the breast department moved to the North Bristol Trust.

Ms Misra said it is multicultural and there are many other employees of Indian origin. 

She said Dr Bhatt was unable to expand on his claims he had been subjected to racism and the information he gave was “incoherent and sketchy at best”. 

She said: “At the point Dr Bhatt came to be the subject of a disciplinary process this wasn’t a case of a consultant who had been picked on out of the blue and hadn’t been the subject of prior complaint, concern or conflict.

“There had been an irretrievable breakdown of working relationships with his colleagues and clinical leadership. 

“There wasn’t any hope that mediation would have fixed anything.”

Ms Misra said Dr Bhatt claimed he was dismissed because he disclosed information related to patient safety, but added: “There’s no shred of evidence that anyone had any issue with patient safety concerns being raised. 

“The issue was the weaponisation of the Datix system to criticise, denigrate and undermine other healthcare professionals.” 

She said the colleague Dr Bhatt was allegedly abusive towards was unable to attend the hearing “because of the state of her health and her fear at having to encounter the claimant again due to the level of intimidation and concern she felt”. 

She said: “This was someone Dr Bhatt had got on well with. There was a watershed moment where she had to bring a grievance. It’s not a step she took lightly.”

Judge Andrew Midgley told the tribunal he would be reserving the judgment and it would be handed down in writing as soon as possible.

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