A consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist has told an employment tribunal that he was “subjected to brutal retaliatory victimisation” after he raised “whistleblowing” concerns about midwifery care at his hospital.
Martyn Pitman was dismissed earlier this year from his job at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital (RHCH) in Winchester where he had worked as a consultant for 20 years.
He is claiming at the Southampton tribunal that he suffered a detriment due to exercising rights under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.
The 57-year-old has told the Southampton hearing that he had raised concerns about patient choice and safety which he claimed the management dismissed out of concern for the “reputational damage” that they would cause.
In a statement produced to the tribunal, Mr Pitman said that the merger of Royal Hampshire County Hospital with Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital NHS Trust in 2012 “proved challenging due to significant differences in the philosophy of care and management style”.
He said: “I was justifiably reluctant to follow the low-risk, senior midwifery-led, pro-normalisation model of care championed by our new partners.
“I believe that, in the 21st century, maternity care should be patient-focused with parents being able and supported to choose, with evidence-based advice, how and where to deliver their babies.
“Unfortunately, this stance, somewhat professionally unpopular at the time but now fully supported following recent enforced changes in UK maternity practice, made me vulnerable to managerial challenge.”
He said that up to the Spring of 2019 morale was deteriorating in the RHCH midwifery team and clinical midwives had “lost confidence” in the senior midwifery management.
He said: “Concerns included imminent and threatened resignation of our valued midwifery colleagues, increasing sickness rates, recurrent, dangerously low staffing levels preventing safe levels of patient care (inductions of labour were recurrently delayed and prolonged, elective caesarean section lists were delayed and sometimes cancelled due to inadequate midwifery staffing levels) and that we, as a consultant body, were not being appropriately involved in decision making.”
He added: “On a daily basis there was evidence of deteriorating standards of care.
“We were certain that the situation posed a direct threat to both patients’ safety and staff wellbeing.
“Concern was expressed that there was a genuine risk that we could start to see avoidable patient disasters.”
Mr Pitman states that he was elected by the midwives to act as their “spokesperson” which led to him raising issues with the management.
He said: “I had a professional responsibility and legal duty to voice my concerns related to patient safety and to represent the views of my colleagues.
“This is fully supported by the Trust’s own guideline related to raising concerns and whistleblowing.”
Mr Pitman added that in September 2019, an emergency meeting of consultants was held following “whistleblowing concerns” from the senior clinical midwives that “mirrored” those that he had raised.
He said: “Instead of working with me and my fellow consultants to address the concerns that had been raised, senior managerial colleagues realised the individual and organisational damage that our disclosures could cause.
“They chose instead to recruit the willing assistance of their senior Trust managerial colleagues to subject me to a formal Managing High Professional Standards Investigations (MHPSI).
“As a direct consequence of exerting my professional responsibility in whistleblowing concerns I was subjected to brutal retaliatory victimisation.”
He said he warned that this process “will kill somebody” as he thought the complaint against him was “vexatious”.
Mr Pitman said that he was downgraded following a “surgical complication” during a procedure undertaken by a colleague without his knowledge while he was on call in March 2021. He added that he was accused of “no longer being competent to provide gynaecological on-call cover”.
He continued: “This aggressive and vindictive decision was unjustifiable on both clinical and financial grounds.”
Mr Pitman said: “At a time of near crisis in the NHS, with serial reporting of UK maternity unit failings over recent years, the NHS has lost 30 years of experience, 20 at consultant level from an individual who was focused and dedicated to his chosen profession and still had so very much to offer.”
A spokeswoman at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said in a statement: “Dismissal is always a last resort and since Hampshire Hospitals was formed 11 years ago, no member of staff has ever been dismissed for whistleblowing or raising concerns over patient safety; and they never will be.
“We actively encourage our staff to raise any concerns they have in a number of different ways and support those who do so.
“The trust ensured that all issues raised by Mr Pitman were thoroughly and impartially investigated, including in some instances through external review.
“Every effort was made to repair his relationships with the maternity and clinical colleagues in question – efforts which were unfortunately unsuccessful.
“We are increasingly concerned that Mr Pitman’s representation of the reasons for his dismissal could discourage others from raising important issues.
“Patient safety remains our top priority, and our maternity teams work exceptionally hard together to provide the best care to our patients.
“We are proud to be fully recruited to midwives, and of the progress being made to offer the best possible service to those in our care.”
A British Medical Association spokeswoman said: “The case being heard this week concerns whistleblowing disclosures made by Mr Pitman between March 2019 and July 2021, and resulting detriments he claims he was subjected to.
“The case is against Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Dr Alloway, former Chief Medical Officer at the Trust. It is scheduled to last 14 days.
“Mr Pitman was dismissed by the Trust in March 2023. A separate claim of unfair dismissal has been issued for determination at a later stage.”
The hearing continues.