Mental Health

20.02.19

Suicidal NHS employee unfairly dismissed after being issued with ‘appalling’ legal threat by trust

An NHS staff member was threatened with legal action by an ambulance trust after he reported feeling suicidal and was unfairly dismissed, an employment tribunal ruled, in the most “appalling response” judges had seen.

The tribunal heard how Gordon Flemming, an NHS motor vehicle technician, had indicated he was seriously contemplating suicide – but was told not to write so, or the trust threatened to refer the letters to its solicitors.

Norwich Employment Tribunal ruled that the employee’s claim that he was unfairly dismissed by the East of England Ambulance Services Trust was “well-founded”, as were claims of discrimination arising from disability.

Court documents said Flemming had contacted the human resources director Ruth McAll’s assistant, as well as the assistant director of operations support, and accused them of corporate bullying.

Along with other allegations, Flemming wrote: “I am suffering from a severe and crippling mental illness… Are you really interested in what has happened to me, corporate bullying on such a scale that I have contemplated ending it all, does nobody care about that?”

Ruth McAll responded: “Dear Gordon, I appreciate you may have mental health problems, but this letter is not acceptable. In future do not write to anyone else in the trust except me. If you continue to write such letters we will refer them to our solicitors. Ruth”

The tribunal’s judges called the response “quite remarkable” from the director of HR and a key figure in determining the culture of the organisation.

Judges said: “The tribunal comment that in our combined 60 years’ judicial experience we have not before seen such an appalling response.”

The incident followed an ‘altercation’ with Flemming’s line manager in 2012 where the employee became “very upset and distressed” and went to hospital with chest pains, after which followed a series of rows, health issues, and efforts to facilitate his return to work.

Flemming also covertly recorded a private conversation between senior managers at the trust overseeing his disciplinary hearing by leaving his phone in an interview room during a break.

The deputy director of operations was recorded saying: “I mean getting up and pummelling it into him [Mr Flemming] with my fists is probably not appropriate in terms of policy, is it?”

The judges wrote that they “struggled to understand how there could have been any realistic prospect of fair procedure” when this type of language was used, and it was “beyond belief” some conducting a disciplinary hearing felt it appropriate to speak like this.

A remedy hearing was listed to take place on 4 February at the Norwich Employment Tribunal but its outcome has not yet been revealed.

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