MARGARETTA POS, LINDSAY TUFFIN
The head of the Health Department in Tasmania, David Roberts, was involved in a five-year dispute with a United Kingdom heart surgeon which eventually cost British taxpayers up to 5 million pounds.
The doctor won.
The case has echoes of the suspension of north-east Tasmanian GP Paul McGinity. Mr Roberts says there is no direct connection with him, as the issues with Dr McGinity are with the doctor’s professional body. Mr Roberts has, however, been associated with the McGinity case: http://oldtt.pixelkey.biz/index.php?/weblog/article/stench-detected-in-gps-suspension/
David Roberts was chief executive officer of University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire National Health Service Trust (University Hospitals) in the United Kingdom, for five years until July 31, 2006.
Eighteen months after his resignation from the Trust, in late 2007, Health and Human Services Minister Lara Giddings appointed Mr Roberts as head of her department.
The DHHS’s website states: “David has a successful career as a health leader with an extensive background in health strategy, health system development, clinical service reform and corporate turnaround within the UK Health Service.”
Mr Roberts was one of the highest paid local health chiefs in the United Kingdom. In the 12 months to April 2006, his salary was 262,800 pounds.
One of his deputies there was Alice Casey. As chief operating officer of University Hospitals, Casey was paid 266,500 pounds in the same period; more than Mr Roberts, presumably because of a different pay regime. She left her job on December 31, 2007.
Last year, now called by her married name, Alice Burchill, she was appointed to the newly created Tasmanian Health Department position of Deputy Secretary Care and Reform. DHHS now has four deputy secretaries.
Mr Roberts told Tasmanian Times he had no role in Ms Burchill’s appointment in Tasmania. He said it was made on recommendation of recruitment consultants who concluded she was the best person for the job.
Ms Casey and Mr Roberts were both listed among the top 100 paid public sector officials in the UK on a Rich List published by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, for the twelve months to April 2006; ranked at numbers 73 and 79 respectively.
He has kept a connection with that previous experience: He returned to the UK on a Tasmanian taxpayer funded visit not long after his arrival in Tasmania.
Mr Roberts was appointed CEO of Walsgrave Hospital – now University Hospitals – in June 2002, four months after heart surgeon Raj Mattu was suspended.
Dr Mattu was suspended over an allegation of bullying two junior doctors whose research he supervised.
On his appointment, Mr Roberts told Coventry’s The Telegraph he was focussed on the future – including a planned multi-million pound, privately financed new hospital.
“Clearly I am going to have to work through some of the issues which have developed, but I want to focus on modernisation and change, on moving the organisation forward,” he told the newspaper.
Five years after Mr Roberts took over, in August 2007, the month after Mr Roberts left, Coventry MP and then British Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth, told The Telegraph that he had repeatedly pressured Mr Roberts to bring the Mattu case to a conclusion.
Mr Roberts told Tasmanian Times he had attempted to resolve issues involving several suspended doctors in his five years as CEO. Some were resolved. The case of Dr Mattu was unresolved when he left. Mr Roberts said he did not know the outcome.
“I didn’t suspend him. I tried to resolve it. It didn’t get sorted in my time there, ” he said.
British-born, Cambridge University educated Dr Mattu had an Indian background. His supporters claimed he was suspended because he was a whistleblower who revealed practices endangering patient care at the hospital. They set up a website in his defence: http://www.reinstatedoctorrajmattu.co.uk/correspondence4.html
Dr Mattu worked at Walsgrave Hospital (University Hospitals) and was critical of management after the hospital came under fire in 2001 from the National Commission for Health Improvement. The Commission found serious areas of concern with patient care.
Dr Mattu claimed on BBC TV that 11 patients had died because of overcrowding in a heart attack recovery ward. He said patients’ lives were jeopardised by the practice of treating five patients in bays designed for four patients.
Shortly afterwards he was suspended and spent the ensuing years at home on two-thirds of his 100,000 pound salary, while locums were paid in his stead.
It later emerged that the bullying accusation against Dr Mattu related to alleged pressure by him on two junior doctors to back his complaints.
In July 2003, anaesthetist and chairman of the senior staff committee, Peter Mulrooney, quit over what he claimed was a conspiracy to get rid of Dr Mattu.
In a wide ranging attack on senior management, Dr Mulrooney told Coventry’s The Evening Telegraph: “I became tired of working in an environment where there is a real feeling of fear where you put one step wrong and you are for it.”
Dr Mulrooney said he had a catalogue of complaints regarding discrepancies in Dr Mattu’s case and the issues surrounding it. “I believe Dr Mattu has been treated abominably. I believe there has been a concerted campaign by some senior managers to get rid of him.”
Further, he said that serious concerns over patient care, raised by Dr Mattu before his suspension, were not acted upon and could have contributed to the desire to oust him.
The Dr Raj Mattu Reinstatement Committee waged a campaign on Dr Mattu’s behalf. Tasmanian Times has copies of letters sent by the Committee to both Mr Roberts and Ms Casey, which were highly critical of the manner in which Mr Roberts and Ms Casey were handling the case.
University Hospitals commissioned an independent inquiry on the case, headed by QC Andrew Stafford. In March 2006, the panel recommended that Dr Mattu return to work with a written warning, but his suspension remained in place.
Mr Roberts’s job as CEO officially ended on July 31, 2007.
On the same day, Coventry’s The Telegraph reported that acting CEO Martin Lee had lifted Dr Mattu’s suspension.
Dr Mattu told the newspaper of meetings with a new management team – Mr Lee, a new Medical Director, and a new Chairman.
Dr Mattu expressed relief that he was now “reinstated as consultant cardiologist.” By then, however, he was suffering from a stress-related illness and was unable to return to work.
In March this year, the British Medical Council finally exonerated Dr Mattu of more than 150 complaints made against him by University Hospitals – after one of the longest and costliest suspensions in the history of the National Health Service.
The official cost of his suspension was 2.1 million pounds. Dr Mattu’s supporters say another 2 million pounds was spent on legal costs, plus the cost of locums, taking the total up 5 million pounds.
The editorial in The Telegraph on July 31, 2007 was blunt: “At a time when health service managers are desperately seeking to reduce budgets, IT IS AN ABSOLUTE SCANDAL … it is a black mark not only on the reputation of Coventry hospital but on the country’s health service and those who administer it.”