The adjournment on Wednesday of the costs hearing against whistleblower Dr Usha Prasad provided welcome relief for embattled and mentally stressed consultant cardiologist dismissed by the Epsom and St Helier University NHS trust.
But before the case was adjourned by judge Mrs E J McLaren (and the trust’s claim cut from £180,000 / NZD 385,000 to £24,000 / NZD 52,000), law firm Capsticks had submitted a breakdown of their costs to the judge. They had to do this to get the trust’s costs back and it provides a rare public insight into the length lawyers go to pursue whistleblowers at the trust’s behest.
Remember all the money spent by the trust comes from the British taxpayer and is used by the management of the trust to pursue whistleblowers rather than provide more patient care. And also remember again that in 99.95 per cent of all employment tribunal cases the employee is not asked to pay the employer’s costs.
So the £172,000 (NZD 370,000) bill presented by Capsticks to the tribunal makes very interesting reading. It reveals that at various times no fewer than 20 lawyers and paralegals were involved in countering Dr Usha Prasad various claims. They were paid anything from £82 to £160 an hour. They included two partners on £160 an hour, three in house barristers two on £160 an hour and one on £120 an hour, two legal directors again on £160 an hour, four senior solicitors on between £130 and £160 an hour; three solicitors on £143 and £120 an hour, two trainee solicitors on £96 an hour and five paralegals on £82 an hour.
Counsel Fees for the barrister Miss Nadia Motraghi totalled £50.775 . These were for a Preliminary Hearing on 30 September 2021 and a brief and refresher on a Final Hearing on 1 November 2021 for 16-day hearing.
The biggest payout among the 20 lawyers working for Capsticks was to Jessica Blackburn, a senior solicitor who was promoted halfway through the case, earned over £47,000 in fees for pursuing Dr Usha Prasad. There is a profile of her here. She was the most combative in her approach, ignoring her doctor’s plea for a postponement and telling her everything she had claimed, including the whistleblower case over an ”avoidable death” of a heart patient was ”without merit”.
In contrast Dr Usha Prasad could only afford one barrister for part of the time and relied on a friend and fellow consultant Dr Philip Howard to support her pro bono. Otherwise she was a litigant in person facing a team of 20 lawyers.
What is the most disturbing is that the Epsom and St Helier University NHS Trust can ill afford to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money pursuing a consultant cardiologist. She had to spend 28 months in the office on ”restricted clinical duty” while the trust investigated 43 cases against her. They sent them to the General Medical Council which not only exonerated her but extended her license to practice without the need for further revalidation. Any sane person would have decided then and there to drop all this and reinstated her after the GMC findings.
Instead they continued what can be only described as a vendetta against her putting her under more and more stress until she was barely able to cope attending another tribunal hearing.
Meanwhile the trust is building up debts – the latest board meeting in July revealed it is £35 million in the red (up from £27 million in April). Patients waiting for cardiac procedures, mainly imaging, and reviews are having to wait longer and the waiting list is growing – up from 2551 in July 2022 to 2901 in April 2023 - according to the NHS waiting list tracker.
Until this started Dr Usha Prasad who had been there since 2010 had seen 15,000 patients and had no complaints. If she had been reinstated the waiting list might not be so high and more patients would have been treated. And all this taxpayers money would not have been wasted if the trust had decided to use their own HR management to sort this out without going to a tribunal.
Meanwhile the growing deficit has led the trust to plan closing St Helier’s emergency department, maternity services and children’s in-patient services provoking fury from residents. Councilor Ross Garrod, leader of Merton council, has called for re-assessment of the impact of this and a campaign group has been set up to fight the proposals. The website is here.
It’s time the trust got its priorities right. Stop spending hundreds of thousands of pounds fighting whistleblowers and spend more time and energy in running your services better.