A top cancer specialist at Royal Marsden Hospital has claimed he was forced from his position following his writing of a series of articles that criticise the NHS. Joseph Meirion Thomas, 69, was told he had brought the institution into ‘disrepute’ and was abruptly dismissed.
He believes the article that resulted in the negative reaction was one that included his assertion that GPs in the UK do not offer personal services to patients or go out of their way to assist patients by working outside of their daily hours.
When this article was published in November 2014 it provoked a negative reaction from doctors across Britain who condemned the claims as unprofessional and without truth. Royal Marsden Hospital has distanced itself from Dr Thomas, issuing a statement saying that the content of his articles reflect just his own ‘personal views’ and are not based on sound evidence, thereby making him to blame for constituting a ‘misrepresentation of the facts’.
Dr Thomas also believes that in response to the article a large umber of GPs contacted the chief executive at Royal Marsden Hospital making threats to end the referral of their patients to the hospital if the doctor was not punished. The result of this was that Dr Thomas found himself required to sign a document stating he would no longer publish such articles.
He refused to sign and was subsequently dismissed from his position at the hospital in March 2015.
Explaining his position Dr Thomas wrote about his experience via a number of recent posts for The Spectator. In one of these pieces he explained:
“For speaking frankly about the NHS, I was first silenced and then pushed out. My offence was considered unforgivable […] If the NHS can treat a senior cancer surgeon this way, what chance does a nurse or a junior doctor with grave concerns about the health service have?”
His efforts to negotiate a new contract with the hospital that would let him to stay employed on a part-time basis in order to complete a research project for skin cancer patients was denied. This caused Dr Thomas to query whether the hospital has his patients’ best interest at heart as the health of many patients would be jeopardised should the work not be completed at the expense of his punishment.
The doctor claims his whistleblowing went beyond affecting his position at the hospital. He states that his title of ‘professor’, given to him following his receiving an honorary award from Imperial College London, is no longer valid due to having expired; a rare decision to be imposed upon a leading surgeon.
Reaction by the hospital
The doctor’s experiences have led him to begin a discrimination claim against his former bosses. He is claiming to have been bullied and harassed due to his whistleblowing, which is an act protected under UK employment law legislation.
All claims made by Dr Thomas have been denied by the NHS Trust which states that the doctor’s claims are without merit due to no official disciplinary proceeding being taken against him.
The Trust also asserts there was no effort made to censor articles published by Dr Thomas, and that they simply requested he first share the content with them prior to publishing in order for them to assess his concerns while preparing for the public reaction.
Officials claim that the only response made by the Trust in regard to the doctor’s position at the hospital was to give him with a seven day period of paid leave after the articles were published so that he and the hospital could both respond to the heated reaction in an effective manner.
The Trust also protests Dr Thomas’ claim that he was refused permission to contact his patients so that he could explain the reason for his sudden absence to them in person.
The doctor’s suddenly leaving Royal Marsden Hospital is being explained by the Trust as being part of his agreed retirement plan, which they claim he has deliberately chosen not to acknowledge in his claims against the hospital.
A statement released by a spokesman for the Trust claims that Dr Thomas “He fails to disclose that a succession plan had been put in place with his involvement and support well in advance of his retirement date of March 2015 to ensure a smooth transition for patients .
Recent whistleblowing changes
The controversial departure of Dr Thomas comes just months after UK employment law legislation incorporated major reforms intended to highlight prejudice against whistleblowers, with the intention being to create a better working atmosphere in which whistleblowers can speak out without fear of reprisal.
Planned changes of this kind include UK organisations having to employ an official whose position will involve advising and protecting whistleblower concerns.