Whistle-blowing surgeon suffered racial harassment, tribunal finds

Whistle-blowing Iraqi surgeon suffered racial harassment after raising alarm about safety of 25 patients at Hartlepool hospital trust where white and Indian colleagues were ‘untouchable’, tribunal finds

  • Dr Manuf Kassem made the claim against North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust
  • He expressed concerns relating to 25 patients cared for by trust, a tribunal heard
  • The patients allegedly suffered ‘complications, negligence or avoidable deaths’ 
  • Also claims he was discriminated against in favour of ‘white and Indian’ doctors 
  • Judge has now ruled in his favour, while the trust says ‘lessons must be learned’ 

A whistle-blowing surgeon from Iraq suffered racial discrimination and harassment after raising the alarm about patient safety at a trust where he claimed ‘white and Indian doctors were untouchable’, a tribunal has found.

Associate specialist surgeon Dr Manuf Kassem raised concerns about the care of 25 patients at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust while making a grievance against work colleagues.

During the meeting, which was treated as an official disclosure, he alleged the patients had ‘suffered complications, negligence, delayed treatment and avoidable deaths’.  

Dr Kassem, who still works at the trust and specialises in upper gastro-intestinal surgery, later claimed he suffered as a result of raising his concerns.

He also alleged he was racially discriminated against by employees at the trust and claimed ‘if you are white or from India you would receive different treatment’.

Now a judge in an employment tribunal has upheld Dr Kassem’s claims of racial discrimination and harassment.

The trust, which runs the University Hospital of North Tees and University Hospital of Hartlepool among other facilities, has promised improvements and said ‘lessons must be learned’.

Associate specialist surgeon Dr Manuf Kassem (pictured) raised concern about the care of 25 patients at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust

The trust, which runs the University Hospital of North Tees and University Hospital of Hartlepool among other facilities, said ‘lessons must be learned’

The two-week tribunal, which published its ruling earlier this month, heard how Dr Kassem was appointed to work for the trust in August 2002.

Since 2008, he has been an associate specialist surgeon working within the directorate of surgery, urology and outpatients.

And up until 2011 his employment was without incident, the tribunal heard.

But in 2011, after the retirement of another surgeon, he was asked to change part of his role. 

The tribunal heard that Dr Kassem feared, as a result, he would not get enough surgeries in order to maintain his associate specialist role.

He also claimed he was berated by one fellow surgeon in front of colleagues during a patient safety meeting in 2012, as well as being passed over for promotions.

As part of a work grievance, he expressed concerns relating to 25 patients who he alleged had ‘suffered complications, negligence, delayed treatment and avoidable deaths’.

The trust accepted that the claimant raising these concerns amounted to a protected disclosure.

Dr Kassem also raised concerns over ethnicity and race.

Having named five surgeons who he described as being ‘untouchable’ the doctor said, ‘it was dependent upon nationality if you are white or from India you would receive different treatment’.

Dr Kassem referred to a Turkish surgeon who had received treatment similar to him, a doctor from Pakistan who had put a complaint in about how she had been treated and a colleague from Nigeria who was ‘shouted at’.

The two-week tribunal, which published its ruling earlier this month, heard how Dr Kassem (pictured), who is originally from Iraq, was appointed to work for the trust in August 2002

The judge concluded that three people were behind an unfair action taken by the trust – including medical director Dr Deepak Dwarakanath.

It was found that the medical director threatened Dr Kassem with disciplinary action and that a clinical director revealed his identity as a whistleblower – including to other doctors about whom he had raised concerns.

The tribunal found that, having considered the evidence, ‘the tribunal is satisfied that he (Dr Kassem) was subjected to detriment by the respondent (the trust), in the shape of those three individuals’.

Additional complaints that Dr Kassem was victimised contrary to the Equality Act and that he suffered unauthorised deduction from his wages were not upheld.

A further hearing is scheduled for a later date to decide on damages. 

A spokesperson from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘We take note of the ruling and outcome of the tribunal and will await the outcome from a scheduled hearing at a later date.  

‘On the extremely rare occasions when cases like this are raised involving staff in the organisation, we must learn lessons and make improvements where appropriate for the benefit of all staff in the organisation and for our patients.’

It is the second ruling against the trust in a year where a staff member has won a legal case after suffering as a result of whistle-blowing.

Senior nurse Linda Fairhall successfully challenged the decision to sack her after nearly 40 years service after trying to whistle-blow over patient safety concerns.

The clinical care co-ordinator had an ‘unblemished’ record at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust where she had worked since 1979. 

But she was suspended in 2016, and then later sacked, after trying to start a whistle-blowing process.  The trust is appealing the decision.

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