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Fired — for taking his job seriously

Henry took his job as patient liaison officer in a leading Dublin hospital seriously, so much so that he stepped on management corns. This is the horrifying account he has penned of what happened when the bullies decided he had to go


 

Some years ago I was appointed to work in one of Dublin's largest hospitals. After a number of years I was promoted to the position of Patient Liaison Officer. I was delighted with my new post, which brought me into direct contact with patients, primarily in the Accident and Emergency department. I reported to two senior female managers. I was the only man working in the department. Before my promotion I had received many plaudits regarding the quality of my work, etc. I had also secured funding for much needed equipment for the hospital. I was a loyal, hard-working and honest worker. I settled in well in my new role as patient advocate. I worked hard and was diligent with regard to recording details of work relating to my contact with various patients. The situation in A&E for most patients was intolerable at the best of times. I did whatever I could to make their stay less stressful. I witnessed many tragic situations.

Time progressed and I began to notice a subtle hostility towards me from within my department. One of my colleagues, also a liaison officer, began to behave in a manner which isolated me from the others. She attempted to find fault with my work, excluded me from conversations, and when I did try to speak with her she would ignore me in a manner which suggested to any onlooker that she simply hadn't heard what I was saying. The situation got progressively worse and I asked the staff in my department to clear the air and let me know if they were unhappy with me for any reason. Collectively they informed me that there was nothing wrong. I decided to forget about it and put it down to the various styles of personalities. I was trained in people management and even though I had a sense that there was an acute dislike of me I felt that some staff may need time to get to know me better.

However, situations started to develop which on the outside seemed normal enough, but which on closer examination had a more sinister aspect. For example, the colleague who had displayed a serious dislike of me became very friendly one day and engaged me in lengthy conversation regarding the nurses who worked in A&E. She asked me with which nurse I got on best with when I was on duty in A&E. I replied that I got on well with all of them. She pushed the issue and suggested that there must be one or two in particular. I responded by suggesting that Nurse X and myself worked very well together when we were employed on the same shifts and we tended to get a lot of work done.

On the following occasion when I was on duty with Nurse X the atmosphere was intolerable. Nurse X referred to me as a man akin to someone suffering from cerebral palsy and threatened to slap my face if I touched the file on bed availability while she was present. I needed to have access to this file and her actions were a deliberate attempt to prevent me doing my work. Nurse X then stared at me and stated: "You're a real problem — You!"

I was incredulous. Here was someone that I had previously gotten on so well with, had spoken so highly of and was now displaying such blatant dislike of me. Some days later I saw nurse X talking in very friendly terms with the colleague who had put the question to me regarding which nurse I got on best with. Following this episode further situations began to develop which left me in no doubt that all staff in my department, including the two senior managers, were out to get rid of me and use any method to do so. I was no longer invited to tea breaks with any of my colleagues. On the contrary, when they were having their tea breaks they would place a notice on the door stating ‘Meeting in progress Do not enter'. I viewed this type of behaviour as childish but at the same time difficult to know how to handle.

One afternoon I was in the office when the deputy manager and a girl from another department arrived in. The deputy manager was in excited mood as she related to the other girl how she had obtained a boardroom table for her new office by giving a senior consultant a blow job. They then erupted into laughter in front of me. Both girls thought that this was very amusing but I was very unsure how to react. I kept my head down but I felt a fiery blush burn from my neck up. I was at a complete loss as to how to deal with the situation.

Following this episode the brother of this deputy manager, who worked as a clerk in the admissions office, started to behave in a very strange manner towards me. He would approach me and make suggestions that I was homosexual. He would constantly refer to me as she. For example, one day he said to his colleague "Doesn't she look well today with her shoes nicely polished?". They both laughed in my face. I ignored him. However as time went on he persisted with his schoolyard bully tactics. He would appear in various locations and say things such as "How's your boyfriend today?" or "I'm watching you missus".

The more I ignored him the worse he became. I was under no illusion that his sister, my deputy manager, had to be behind his actions. He was clearly in breach of hospital regulations and he obviously felt very comfortable in the knowledge that he would get away with this type of behaviour. One day whilst I was sitting on a high stool in A&E, I got up to adjust myself. As I did so, I saw his arm reach behind me just as I was sitting back down. He pulled the stool away and I slipped back and almost hit the floor. He quickly started to talk with other staff members in an effort to conceal his actions.

It was then that I noticed the internal security camera was pointed in an ideal location to record what had taken place. I noted the date time and place in my diary for future reference.

 

The campaign begins

In October 2002 I was summoned by my deputy manager and senior manager without prior notice to attend for an immediate appraisal of my work to date. The appraisal I felt would review my work since I took up the post in May and I felt quietly confident. I knew my work was of the highest standard and I felt I had little to fear in this regard.

The appraisal began in a very unfriendly manner. Both managers sat opposite me and began to outline a litany of errors which they felt I was responsible for. The referred only to incidents which had taken place a week previously. All issues outlined by them were without substance and with the aid of documentary evidence I was able to prove that no errors had occurred and no mistakes were made by me. My managers had clearly no idea that I kept excellent records of all incidents I encountered within A&E and on the wards, and they were clearly annoyed that their allegations regarding a variety of errors which they claimed had taken place over the previous week would not hold water. Both managers looked at each other for a few moments nodded and then stated: "You made remarks of a sexual nature to the two young girls in the front office. This matter will now be fully investigated. Is there anything you wish to say?"

My only response to this blatant lie was WHAT? I felt choked up inside. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I knew I was totally innocent but I was also very much aware that sexual harassment was a sacking offence and clearly this was what the managers were going to try and achieve. I stated that this was a serious allegation. They replied "Yes, it is serious and we will investigate it."

Panic began to surge through me. These people would stop at nothing. They took delight in my obvious sense of despair. They insisted I take the rest of the evening off and consider carefully my response. I left the office and sat in my car. I could not think straight. Various thoughts began to race through my mind. What would I do if they made these false allegations stick? When I returned home that evening I told my wife what had happened, I told her what had been taking place since my promotion.

Together we decided to seek help. The following morning we contacted the trade union IMPACT. I was advised to say nothing until I had met a union official. I reported to work as usual that day and almost immediately I was summoned by both managers. They wanted my response. I told them I was not going to respond until I had taken appropriate advice. I informed them the allegations were false and I would attend with my union official later in the evening. The senior manager became angry and stated if I were to go down that route it would make matters worse for me. I viewed this as a threat. I suddenly became aware that I was the one now in control and the managers were unsure of their ground. I told both managers I wanted the allegations in writing and that I wanted to face my accusers.

The managers left the room for a discussion. When they returned they insisted that they had never made any allegations and they wanted to forget the incident. The deputy manager was panicked and made remarks about the girls overreacting, and that one of them had withdrawn the allegation and could I please now forget about the incident. I insisted that nothing had taken place between me and these girls and I wanted to contact the union and seek advice. I asked permission to make a phone call. I rang the union and the official stated that I needed to protect myself. Against advice, I decided to accept that the girls had withdrawn the allegations. The managers were delighted and suggested that everyone should go home and have a nice weekend. They left the office. The deputy manager then returned and said please Henry forget about this. "Mistakes have been made and lessons learned promise me you won't say a word about this to anyone outside of this office." I agreed to do as she asked. I did not want a fight with these people, if this was the end of it, perhaps now they would leave me alone and let me get on with my job.

The following week I was summoned by my managers once more. They informed me that they had a week to consider my reaction to my job appraisal and they were unhappy with my reaction. They informed me that they had attempted to conduct a job appraisal with me and I had become emotional and made out that allegations of a sexual nature were made against me and they had brought the matter to the attention of the personnel department. I watched both these women perform and I was now convinced that they were two of the most devious individuals I had ever encountered.

From here events went into a steep decline. Incidents too numerous to mention took place daily, ranging from cutting remarks to total isolation and job sabotage.

They managers used their influence with a colleague of theirs within the personnel department and it wasn't long before he joined in the campaign of bullying and intimidation.

 

'The stuff of nightmares'

Within the next few days a senior member of management within the hospital whom I knew very well approached me and asked me how I was settling into my new post. I told her that it was the stuff of nightmares and I was unsure what to do. This manager then informed me that she had attended a recent meeting with the CEO, deputy CEO and managers from my department. She told me that my manager and the CEOs were discussing the option of using only two liaison officers instead of three. She informed me that she was strongly of the impression that the CEOs and my manager would attempt to get rid of me within the coming weeks. She stated that it made no sense to her as I worked a different shift to the other liaison officers and my shift, which included late evening and weekend work, was essential as many patients would be confined to trolleys over the weekends. Indeed this was the case.

Within a couple of days another senior manager, a nun, for whom I had a great deal of respect asked to speak with me in confidence. She informed me that I should take every step to safeguard my position as she was aware that my manager and her deputy were going to try and get rid of me... have me fired. I did not discuss with her what had been taking place to date. I simply asked her why they should want to have me sacked. She responded that I was showing up my department. That I was clearly the best worker in that department and my managers were not at ease with the situation.

The effects of what was taking place began to affect my physical wellbeing. I began to feel very unsure and my confidence deteriorated, because uppermost in my mind was to hold onto my job so I could continue to pay my mortgage and take care of my family. I could no longer sleep at night. I would wake up after the shortest period of sleep and would stay awake for the rest of the night.

I was aware there were rumours rife around the hospital of an affair between the deputy CEO and my manager. These rumours started after the Christmas party in 2000. I was in an office in my old department when I had overheard two senior managers discuss the implications of this relationship. I paid little attention to it as it did not affect me. When I got the promotion into this new department and subsequently my managers' changing attitude towards me, I became aware that this alleged affair could become more significant for me. On one occasion I came across both of them being unusually intimate in the hospital corridor and I pressed against the wall in the hope that they would not think I was spying. When I worked the evening shift I would frequently see him call to her office. I now began to think that if these individuals were indeed close my manager may be able to use her influence on the deputy CEO to get rid of me.

I reported for work every day as usual and tried to get along with the people in my department but I knew by their reaction to me that they knew I was on the ropes — and they showed no mercy. They soon delivered another Machiavellian body blow. Nurse X approached me in a very friendly fashion when I was working in the A&E Department. "Hi, Henry, would you do me a big favour?"

She then asked me to bring an envelope with cash up to a patient on the ward. She stated that the patient had been transferred from A&E to the ward and had not brought his cash with him. I did not wish to appear paranoid but I was deeply suspicious as Nurse X had waited for me to come on duty to make this request and had not already asked security or a member of her own staff. I looked at Nurse X and agreed to do as she asked. Nurse X then handed me a sealed envelope. On the outside of the envelope was an amount written in cash. I took the envelope and then requested that the security guard, J, accompany me to witness the transfer of money. Nurse X stated certainly not... we need him here. Unbeknownst to Nurse X, I asked the security guard to come with me and witness what would take place. I then informed him that everything he was about to witness he should document carefully and that I would require a copy of his written report. He seemed somewhat perplexed but I explained to him that I felt that this situation was a set-up. I informed him that I had little doubt in my mind that when I handed the patient over the envelope with the cash inside, an amount of cash would be missing from that envelope. We arrived at the ward, met the patient, the transfer took place.

The patient opened the envelope and erupted: "What's going on here...where's my money?". J could hardly believe his eyes. I told the patient that I would look into the matter and return to him with an explanation. The patient was having none of it, and demanded that I return with all his money or there would be trouble. On our way back to the A&E Department I informed J that he needed to have a report prepared for me as soon as possible and he agreed to do so.

In the A&E Department I sought out Nurse X. I told her what had taken place and I told her that J had witnessed it. Nurse X was clearly very annoyed that J had accompanied me. Nurse X went away and returned some minutes later and declared that she had found the missing cash in the safe. It must have fallen out of the envelope. I said nothing... But it raised the question: how did cash fall from a sealed envelope. Within days of this occurrence I sought the report from J, the security guard. I could not find him. I asked another member of security if he had seen J. I told him I needed a report from him urgently. The other security guard informed me that J no longer worked for the hospital. I asked him why, but he could only tell me that something had happened and they got rid of him. This episode took place in late October 2002; what would happen to me within the next four weeks and over the following two years is almost impossible to relate.

My department, the CEO and Deputy CEO and some other members of staff became involved in an orchestrated attempt, not alone to get rid of me but totally destroy me and my credibility as a human being. I have kept documentary evidence to support my story. However, what is more important is this. We live in an age when there is supposed to be ample legislation to protect employees and employers alike. There is no legislation to protect one from bullying and intimidation. NONE! Some will suggest that it is covered under the health and safety legislation but this is not the case.

During the remainder of October 2002 I was subjected to constant intimidation of one kind or another, all designed to provoke me into a reaction. The worst of these situations centred on a case regarding two elderly patients. It was November 2002. I was on duty in the A&E department working the weekend shift.

 

Risking lives to set Henry up

I received a telephone call from an employee in Bed Management who explained to me that she was having trouble moving a patient out of an isolation unit and asked me to talk with the patient in order to persuade her to move out of isolation and onto a ward. I saw nothing suspicious about the request or indeed the manner in which it was made. I went to the isolation unit and, before entering, asked the senior nurse on the ward if she could provide me with a member of her staff to act as a witness while I attempted to encourage the patient to relocate to a ward. The senior nurse was unable to provide such a witness but informed me that the patient's daughter was with the patient and she could act as witness. I accepted this.

On entering the isolation unit I was greeted by a very defensive daughter-in-law and an extremely distressed patient. I assume it was because I was dressed in a suit that the patient's daughter-in-law declared to the patient "Look. They've sent a consultant to get you to move." The daughter-in-law looked at me and said that nobody was moving her until she was well enough to be moved. After I explained my role to her, she became calm and as she outlined her concerns to me. I was shocked that nobody had informed me of the background to this case and it was clearly a situation I was not equipped to handle. The woman told me her mother-in-law was admitted to hospital suffering from a treatable condition. While there, she had contracted MRSA and C Diff and was in isolation as a result. The woman insisted her mother-in-law still had a severe infection and as late as that morning had acute diarrhoea.

Alarm bells started to ring in my head. Why had I not been informed? I returned to the nurse's station and requested the patient's file. I read the file and it confirmed all the daughter-in-law had told me was correct. I wrote in my notebook all details in relation to the patient. I spoke to the senior nurse on duty and told her that, according to the daughter-in-law, the patient was suffering from acute diarrhoea as late as this morning and she was insistent that the infection was still present. I subsequently enquired of the senior nurse whether or not she was aware of this, which the patient's daughter-in-law had made known to me. She stated she was not aware of this; she spoke with her staff and confirmed that none of them were aware either, and stated that on no account should the patient be moved. Further swabs would have to be taken from the patient to see if the infection was present. I was not a medic but all common sense told me to do exactly as the senior nurse advised and leave this patient where she was. If I were to transfer an infectious patient back to a ward I might be responsible for infecting other patients, which could possibly result in the death of someone.

I contacted the member of Bed Management and informed her that my attempts to move the patient were unsuccessful, on the basis of information received from medical staff and a member of the patient's family. At the time I was going to raise the issue as to why I had not been fully briefed on the background of the patient, but I decided to let it go. The member of Bed Management was on her way home at the time and I spoke to her on her mobile phone. She accepted the situation and seemed to understand the implications of moving this patient from isolation against medical advice.

After I had finished the conversation I recalled that not two weeks earlier I had received a phone call from this same member of bed management. I had never met her before but I thought our phone conversation was somewhat unusual. At the time I had been busy in A&E and was called to the telephone. It was this same member of bed management. She initiated a conversation with me about my position as liaison officer and asked me whether I found the position stressful. I remembered telling her that, on the contrary, it was the patient who suffered the stress and I viewed my position as a means of lowering the stress level of the patient and as a result I viewed the job as very rewarding.

I was tempted at the time to make reference to certain employees in the hospital who were determined to make my life stressful but I withheld this information. She continued by saying that she would also enjoy such a position and I gave her some background as to what the job entailed. I remembered thinking at the time what a friendly person she was compared to the individuals I had recently encountered. I will refer to her as Ms COG.

I finished my working week the following day and the next two days were rest days. While I was at home I received a phone call from one of the girls who had allegedly made the complaint of sexual harassment against me, inviting me to come to a party being organised by the department. I was surprised to be invited knowing what was going on in the background. I had to decline the invitation because my wife had become very unwell and required a heart procedure. I was very polite in declining the invitation and I thanked the girl in question for considering me.

For an instant I let myself fall into a false sense of security and I told my wife that I felt things might be taking a turn for the better. I told her I had just received a very unusual telephone call from one of the girls who, according to my manager, had previously accused me of sexual harassment, inviting me to a party. My wife and I thought this very strange. However I tried to convince myself that maybe things were taking a turn for the better.

 

The final act begins

When I returned to work after my rest days I felt better than I had weeks and I was optimistic that maybe work conditions would start to improve. But I had no sooner removed my coat when I was summoned to my senior manager's office. She invited me to take a seat and before I had time to draw a breath she slid a letter across her desk and told me to "read it and say nothing". She instructed me to prepare a response for the CEO within seven days. I began to read the letter, which was clearly a complaint. It centred around my refusal to carry out a specific instruction — from a member of Bed Management — to move a patient from an isolation unit to a ward and how my actions had impacted on another elderly patient waiting for admittance to that isolation unit. The other elderly patient had since died. I could not believe what I was reading. I asked how this complaint had come about. My manager informed me that she had had a conversation with the senior bed manager two days ago and had learned how I had refused to move a patient. On that basis my manager had sought a letter of complaint from the bed manager and had brought the situation to the attention of the CEO.

Everyone in the hospital knew that my manager and the senior bed manager were good friends but no matter how friendly they were I could not believe that they would resort to something as dangerous as this. In the back of my mind I knew my actions were correct and if my manager knew the facts she would withdraw this complaint as there would be serious repercussions for her and bed management when the full facts materialised.

I attempted to explain the full facts of the situation to my manager but she told me she didn't want to hear another word until I had prepared a report for the CEO and I should meet with her in seven days time. I could not believe it. Surely she was not going to proceed with this complaint, knowing that if I had moved the patient against medical advice the consequences could have been extremely serious. I tried in vain to explain the situation to my manager but she refused to listen.

Over the following days I prepared a letter and a detailed report for the CEO. I also sought a report from the nurse on duty on the day in question. I did not receive a report from the nurse even though I made a number of requests for it. I was summoned to my manager's office seven days later at the appointed time. I knocked on the door of her office and was told to wait outside. I was called after half an hour and took a seat opposite my manager and deputy manager.

The senior manager began to outline how serious the situation was for me and that my position within the hospital was no longer tenable. I attempted to speak but was overruled time and time again. Every time I attempted to outline the background to the situation I was subjected to ridicule regarding my incompetence. The meeting lasted for 90 minutes. At one stage during the course of the meeting I began to feel very unwell. I did not want the manager and deputy manager to see me faint, but I knew something dreadful was going to happen if I was not excused and allowed to leave the room to get some air. My hands began shaking uncontrollably. I asked to be excused for a few minutes to obtain a glass of water.

The expressions on the faces of my managers were ones of gloating and, sure in the knowledge that they had now achieved their victory, they agreed to release me to obtain a glass of water. "While you're at it," exclaimed my senior manager, "when you return bring with you a copy of the work you have completed to date. I wish to examine it". I left the office and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. I felt my face was very hot and my body was shaking uncontrollably. I was extremely weak. I returned to the manager's office with the details she requested. My manager and her deputy scrutinised my work but were unable to find fault and so the reverted back to the original complaint. They both then stated that I should admit my guilt! "Admit you were wrong, otherwise your position within this hospital is no longer certain."

Any attempt to outline the facts to the managers was ignored; they wanted one response and one only, that I had refused to carry out an instruction regarding the transfer of a patient, which, according to them, had had serious implications for another patient in the A&E department.

The deputy manager then declared that she had gone to the isolation unit on the Monday morning and moved that patient to a ward. The deputy manager referred to my actions as nit-picking and she would not tolerate it. I looked at the deputy manager, who had no medical background, and thought to myself what a stupid foolish woman she was. In order to prove her point, she was prepared to risk the lives of every patient on that ward. What my managers had failed to note is that I had also been dealing with the elderly male patient in question in the A&E Department and had been involved with his family. They did not want to hear this or indeed any version of events I had to offer. Instead they continued with mixed allegations and threats that this was the end of my employment with the hospital.

I then did something I regret to this day. I began to plead with them that I had a family and without my job I would be ruined. The more I pleaded the more they turned up the pressure until eventually they told me to leave the office. When I went downstairs all the members of staff were present as if they had been informed as to what was going on. I knew at this stage I looked terrible... I was a broken man... and nothing I could do could camouflage my physical appearance. Part of me wanted to walk out but I was determined to work out the day and try and muster the energy to see this thing through. I prepared to get myself together and report to A&E as usual but just as I was about to leave the office one of my colleagues, a fellow liaison officer, who had always treated me with contempt started to give me ambiguous instructions in relation to a number of patients in A&E. I wrote down her instructions but it was a futile exercise as I knew it was merely another attempt to finish me. The fact is they had succeeded.

I reported to A&E and I felt everybody was looking at me. I thought that I must be paranoid until a member of staff, a woman, approached me and asked me if I was alright. She told me to take a breather and go look in the mirror. I went to the toilet and looked in the mirror. I could hardly recognise the face staring back at me. My face was purple, tears were welling in my eyes and my tie and shirt collar were opened and pulled to the side.

I no longer felt human or alive. I was looking at myself in the mirror but it was as though it was not me.

I knew I could not return to A&E looking as I did so I went to the canteen instead. I took a seat in the corner but as I sat down the deputy CEO and some of his staff entered. I knew he knew I should be in A&E working, but as I got up to leave the woman who had spoken kindly to me stated "stay where you are, Henry". She insisted something terrible was wrong with me and I should tell her. I tried to let her know what had happened but before I could tell her everything the shaking became so bad that my whole body was now visibly shaking and others began to observe what was happening.

A porter then came over and said Henry are you alright? The woman informed him that "those bitches in his department have done this" and I should report them to the CEO. She gave me some painkillers and pleaded with me to go to the CEO and tell him what they had done to me. I thanked her for her kindness and returned to A&E. I was immediately followed by the deputy CEO, he continued to watch me but said nothing. Somehow I managed to see out the rest of my shift.

When my shift was over I sat in my car and began the journey home. On my way down through the Strawberry Beds in Lucan I felt my heart begin to race. I knew I was going to black out. I pulled the car into the ditch, let the windows down and tried to breath normally. I prayed that I was having a panic attack and in time I would be alright. Eventually I got home. I was late. My wife greeted me, wondering where I had been. I tried to tell her what had happened but I broke down. My wife rang a nun in the hospital and enquired "What have you all done to my husband?". She related everything to this nun, who was on the Management Committee, to which she responded that she could not get involved.

I became very unwell during the night. The following morning I went to my GP, however, in the course of telling him what was wrong I broke down. I reported sick for work but no sooner had I done so than I received a phone call from my manager who refused to believe that I was ill and demanded to have the work reports which I had with me the day before and also my report on the incident involving the patient transfer which she had refused to accept from me a day earlier.

I told my manager that I was instructed to take sick leave as I was very unwell and my GP was adamant that I should have no contact with work in the short term. My manager would not accept that I was unwell and insisted on receiving the report as soon as possible. She followed up this phone call with a letter which I received some days later. There is no doubt in my mind that part of me died around this time. The confident, capable and good-natured human being I used to be no longer existed. I was now 43 years old and totally incapable and afraid. I knew I needed help but everything was such a mess I did not know how to begin putting it right.

It was early December 2002. With the help of my GP I began to come to terms with the fact that I had been and was a victim of extreme bullying. My GP gave me some tablets to help relieve the symptoms of severe anxiety and he worked closely with me over the coming days to help me recognise that what was happening was as a result of post trauma. The coming days were hell for myself and my family. My wife's heart condition became progressively worse and an appointment was made for her to attend the hospital where I worked for a heart procedure in the New Year.

I was on sick leave now for just under a week when a letter arrived at my door telling me to attend for a medical at work. This was unprecedented. Never before had an employee been told to report for a medical when they were on certified sick leave for such a short period of time. I rang the personnel dept. The girl in the personnel dept informed me that my manager had instructed personnel to call me in for a medical examination.

I related this to my GP and his instructions were that I was not to attend for this medical or have any further communication with my employer until I was fit to do so. This contact and interference by my manager was the final straw for me. I could not cope any more and made a decision that my family were better off without me. It was then that I contemplated suicide. I felt useless and incapable of supporting my family or indeed ever securing another job. Without going into further details and to prevent further pain for my family I can honestly say that without the kindness, help and guidance of my GP, Dr Moran, and psychiatrist, Dr Michael Corry, I would not be in the situation I am today. I owe both these kind, wonderful men more than I can ever declare. Together they brought me back from the brink and in time gave me the will to continue and see all the positive things about my life of which I had lost sight. Words will never express the enormous debt I owe to both of them and to members of my family.

 

Fighting back — and winning?

In time I decided to submit a formal complaint to the Human Resources Manager. The HR manager responded, saying she was taking the matter very seriously. I believed her. However, nothing came of my complaint. Weeks went by and nothing. I wrote to the union but again nothing was done. In January 2003 I received a letter from my manager and her deputy threatening that if I did not withdraw the complaint that they would take legal action to protect their good names. It appeared to me that the bullies were prepared to come out fighting and I would have to do likewise. I again contacted the union, which contacted the hospital and returned to me stating that the deputy CEO had taken it upon himself to investigate my complaint and that the HR manager was no longer involved. I informed the union that the deputy CEO was a friend of my manager and his insistence to investigate my complaint was purely to protect my manager. I again requested that the HR manager investigate my complaint or failing that the hospital appoint someone else. The deputy CEO refused and sent me a letter condemning me for not accepting the position.

I decided to take the matter further and go to a politician and inform him what had happened. I made arrangements to meet with the Labour leader, Pat Rabbitte. I sat in his office and outlined what had taken place and asked him to intervene and have my complaint heard. He stated he would do what he could and some days later I received a letter from him stating that he had written to the CEO of the hospital and outlined his concerns. Within a few weeks I received a letter from the hospital's personnel department stating that I was being charged with gross misconduct following my refusal to carry out a specific instruction regarding the transfer of a patient and I was hereby suspended from duty pending a disciplinary hearing. I again got in touch with Pat Rabitte who in turn got in touch with Michael Martin, then minister for health. The minister replied that there was nothing he could do. My complaint of bullying was ignored by the hospital and by the minister.

My union representative informed me that there was nothing she could do to force the hospital to examine my complaint of bullying by an independent person and stated there was nothing further she could do. My union representative left her job some weeks later and took up a position as HR manager with another Dublin hospital. In the meantime I was now charged with gross misconduct and I needed to hire a legal team to help me defend myself against the charges.

The strain on myself and my family was unbearable. In order to fund the cost of a legal team we decided to sell our house and rent accommodation pending the outcome of a hearing. The hospital also demanded that I appear for a medical assessment within the coming weeks. The legal people began to correspond with the hospital and vice versa. I attended the medical examination as requested. The doctor I attended was initially extremely intrusive regarding my personal circumstances. So much so that I was astounded to think that he would attempt to intimidate me having received a warning from my doctor that I had been pushed to the limit and he was deeply concerned for my well-being. The medical assessment was conducted in an extremely intimidatory fashion and at one stage I was informed by the occupational health officer that if I refused to disclose anything which might suggest that I had suffered from any form of depression in the past the hospital would be forced to seek a High Court order of disclosure. The occupational health officer put a series of questions to me that had no bearing on the situation. In fact, some of the questions were so insulting and of such a personal nature that eventually I had to stop him in his tracks and insist that he did his job in an impartial manner. The occupational health officer agreed to listen to my side of the story and as I related details to him he insisted he knew nothing and stated he was deeply shocked by the treatment I had received. As we parted company he attempted to persuade me to give up my battle with the hospital that I could never win against individuals who were prepared to stop at nothing in order to conceal their malicious deeds.

However, when I sought a copy of his report under the freedom of information act I was deeply disappointed at the content. He did nothing to highlight the unfairness of my situation. The occupational health officer was an employee of the hospital and he was not prepared to do anything on my behalf which may put his own job in jeopardy.

Letters began to go to and fro from solicitor to hospital and vice versa at huge financial cost and after some months I began to wonder if my solicitor had appreciated the enormity of my situation or whether he was content to let matters run a certain course as long as I was prepared to pay for it. I eventually received a date for the disciplinary hearing and my solicitor suggested that we should hire a junior counsel, an expert in employment law, to defend the charge of gross misconduct. The CEOs of the hospital insisted that the hearing be conducted within the hospital's jurisdiction and under the hospital's specific terms of reference. The CEOs made it clear that I would not be permitted to refer to my complaint of bullying or make any reference to any facts relating to that complaint.

The day of the hearing arrived in October 2003, almost nine months after my suspension from duty. My manager, deputy manager, the bed manager and the member of bed management who contacted me on that fateful day were all called to give evidence to support the charge of gross misconduct. The hearing was conducted over two separate days, and during the course of the hearing my legal team were not permitted to ask any questions which would touch on any matter outside the charge of gross misconduct. My legal team proceeded under protest and I listened as the various witnesses related lie after lie about my handling of the patient transfer and my refusal to carry out a specific instruction. My manager and deputy manager gave conflicted evidence but still I was not permitted to introduce evidence to show I was not guilty. Eventually I was called to give my account of what happened and I did so with a clear conscience. I related the facts as they happened and backed up my story with contemporaneous notes. When the hearing concluded it was decided by the chairman that my full pay should be restored to me and I would receive his decision in the not too distant future.

On 18 December 2003 my solicitor informed me that the chairperson had found entirely in my favour and that I was completely exonerated. My solicitor went on to say that not alone had the chairman felt I had done nothing wrong, on the contrary I had done everything by the book. I could now look forward to returning to work in the New Year. In the meantime I was to relax and take a well deserved break. To say I was elated would be a gross understatement. All members of my family were overjoyed by the outcome. I thanked my legal team and paid them in full for a job well done. This ranked as one of the best moments of my life. My wife and I then set about trying to secure a mortgage in order to purchase a house. I wrote to the HR manager and asked her for a letter outlining my salary details which the financial institution had requested. When I did not receive the letter I contacted her by telephone. The HR manager informed me that the CEO refused to release such a letter. I told her that I had sold my last home in order to raise money to pay the legal costs of defending false charges of gross misconduct and my family were now without a home. The HR manager was obviously appalled by the CEO's actions and took it upon herself to give me the letter.

In January 2004 I asked my solicitor to contact the hospital and give me a date for my resumption of duty. The hospital CEOs ignored my request. I asked my solicitor if he knew what was going on but he did not give me any answers, short of saying that he would contact them again and see what was happening. For the next few months I was ignored by the hospital. My solicitor then started to focus on getting me to leave my job, stating that he could get me one year salary in compensation if I were to resign. I refused to resign my post. I could not believe what he was doing. I told my solicitor that I had not hired him for the purpose of obtaining money from my employer. I had placed my trust in him and I was now being forced into a corner even though I had been cleared by an internal enquiry of committing any wrong.

 

Second bite at the cherry

Then, in July 2004, I received a letter from the CEO stating that he wished to conduct a further disciplinary hearing on the grounds that I was incapable of handling stressful situations. He cited a number of occasions where he claimed I had over-reacted when my manager tried to conduct a work assessment with me and I had refused to cooperate with her. He set a date for a further disciplinary hearing, which coincided with my wife's heart operation. I wrote to him requesting that he put off the disciplinary action until my wife had finished with the hospital. The CEO replied that as soon as my wife was discharged he was going to continue with his disciplinary action on the grounds that I was unable to carry out my duties because of my inability to handle stressful situations. The CEO refused to acknowledge my complaint of bullying.

The week my wife was discharged from hospital, the CEO summoned me to attend his office. I arrived at his office and was greeted by the CEO and deputy CEO. The deputy CEO remarked that I would not be in the position I found myself in today if I had permitted him to investigate the complaint of bullying. The CEO then stated that no matter what I said at this hearing he was not prepared to entertain any complaint of bullying and was standing shoulder to shoulder with my manager and her deputy.

I then informed the CEO that at least one incident of bullying was recorded on CCTV and he could not ignore this evidence. On hearing this, the deputy CEO stated that I had refused to permit him to investigate my complaint and had refused to provide him with a reason for same. I requested that he allow me relate to him in private my reasons for this. He agreed to speak with me in private. I then informed him that it had been widely circulated throughout the hospital that he had been conducting an affair with my manager and because of this I was reluctant to have him investigate my complaint. On hearing this, the deputy CEO blushed and stammered incoherently. He made a number of attempts to speak but was unable to regain his composure. I then informed him that I was not interested in his private life but I stated that he now must surely understand why I had asked that somebody else investigate my complaint of bullying and harassment.

The deputy CEO was clearly in shock that I had been aware of the rumours regarding his affair with my manager. We entered the CEO's office to resume the disciplinary hearing. From that moment until the hearing concluded the deputy CEO never spoke a word. I looked at him on a number of occasions but he appeared to be in a state of shock. The CEO, on noticing that his deputy seemed to be in distress, suggested that we should break for a cup of tea. I again appealed to the CEO to acknowledge my complaint of bullying and I informed him that aside from CCTV footage I had documentary evidence to support my case. The CEO then asked the deputy to look into this complaint of bullying.

The meeting closed. After a number of weeks I heard nothing from the CEO and I began to get suspicious that even though I had provided him with concrete evidence he again chose to ignore me. My wife and I were having a conversation one day as to why the hospital were so determined to dismiss my complaint of bullying without examining the facts, and moreover, why were they so prepared to keep me at home on full salary. On the assumption that the only reason they might take this course of action was that there must be something in the file relating to patient X they did not want me to have access to, I referred once again to my various diaries and note book. I noted once more that the deputy manager, an administrator, who had accused me of nit-picking because I had not transferred patient X back to a public ward, had boasted of how she had moved her. My suspicion was "What if, following this move, the patient had died?". I decided to carry out my own investigation.

Patient X had a highly unusual name. In fact, there were only six families listed in the phone directory with the same name. I was aware of the patient's address. I contacted the phone number listed and spoke with a gentleman. I asked to speak with Patient X and was informed by the gentleman that she was deceased. He told me he was her son. According to him patient X had died in the hospital, shortly after the date of the transfer. The son was informed that his mother had died of natural causes. I told the son that I had met his mother briefly in the hospital some time back and I had promised myself I'd look her up. I did not give him any clue as to my real intention for contacting him, but inside I felt a tremendous sense of shame. He, on the other hand, was delighted that his mother had formed a bond with me to the extent that I would try to get in touch with her almost two years later.

Over the coming days I pondered what course of action I should now take to highlight the lengths bullies will go to achieve their goal. In my situation they were prepared to stop at nothing even to the extent of putting a very ill patient at risk. Indeed, in this case I was left in no doubt that they had caused her death. I immediately set about writing to the minister for health and the minister for justice — all my letters were ignored. I made numerous phone calls to these departments, all in vain. Eventually I put together a detailed file for the attention of the taoiseach [prime minister] of this country. I drove to government buildings and handed a copy of the file to the taoiseach's secretary and got him to sign and date a receipt for it. On the basis of what I had told him, he promised me a hearing with the taoiseach.

Two weeks later I received a letter from the CEO of the hospital telling me I was dismissed.



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