Hospital urged against using “flawed” workplace investigation into Royal Women’s doctor

4 July 2017
Victoria’s Royal Women’s Hospital should abandon its planned action against a long-serving and highly competent neonatologist, the doctor’s lawyers say.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers’ Principal Josh Bornstein has called for the hospital to end its unfair action, after a fundamentally flawed investigation resulted in a recommendation by the CEO to the hospital’s board for the doctor’s employment to be terminated.

“This case is a classic example of a badly botched workplace investigation being used to try and remove a long-serving employee with a strong record of service,” Mr Bornstein said.

He called on the hospital board to carefully examine the transcript of yesterday’s hearing at the Federal Court before deciding on any action.

“As Justice North stated, with so many apparent holes in the process, the hospital board could not properly rely on the investigation to discipline our client,” Mr Bornstein said.

“His Honour noted that he would be surprised if a specialist doctor of 10 years standing would be dismissed on the basis of the material before the board.”

During the court hearing, Justice North described the doctor as a “long-serving” and “highly specialised” medico.

“It’s not suggested that there were other issues in the past that would cause the sudden loss of confidence,” the judge said.

He was also critical of the hospital’s handling of the dispute given the doctor’s mental health struggles.

“There is no evidence that this person, who there seems to be no dispute is suffering from depression, was assisted through the process … in order to bring [the doctor] back to health and work,” Justice North said.

“If that be so, then it really is something to be investigated itself ... Long gone are the days when employees with this type of problem are just told ‘Go home, take an aspirin and come back when you feel better’.”

Mr Bornstein said: “Our client is concerned that the whole process has been triggered by a complaint made of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, and that no support was offered to assist in managing depression in a highly stressful and demanding role where difficult life and death decisions are made on a regular basis.”

“We call on the hospital to abandon this flawed and unfair process and resolve any outstanding issues so our client can restore their health and get back to their important work in the health system.”

The hospital’s investigation followed the deaths of two babies who were being looked after by a team of specialists, including the neonatologist.

Prior to legal proceedings being commenced, the hospital informed the doctor that it could not say the doctor’s care or clinical judgement contributed to either baby’s death. It had also determined not to proceed with a separate investigation into alleged issues with the doctor’s conduct. Despite this, the hospital decided to pursue disciplinary action against the doctor.

“It’s unfortunate that families of patients have now been caught up in what is essentially an employment dispute between the hospital and our client,” Mr Bornstein said.

“We hope the hospital is providing the necessary support to any families who may have concerns or questions stemming from this matter.”   

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