Law firm advises NHS Trust in seminal employment case ruling

Legal Posted 04/12/18
High Court rules in favour of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Brachers has successfully represented Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in a widely-watched High Court case in which a consultant psychiatrist sought an injunction against the Trust to prevent it from potentially finding her guilty of gross misconduct.

The High Court removed an earlier interim injunction and costs were awarded in favour of the Trust.

The case arose when Dr Caroline Ardron, a consultant psychiatrist employed by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, was the responsible clinician for a patient admitted to the healthcare wing of HMP Lewes prison.

Concerns arose regarding Dr Ardron’s conduct in connection with the patient and an investigation following the doctor’s disciplinary process (MHPS) was undertaken. Dr Ardron issued proceedings in the High Court for an interim, and final, injunction to restrain the Trust from holding a disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct.

The case advanced by Dr Ardron was that it would be a breach of her contract of employment for the Trust to pursue a case of gross misconduct against her at a disciplinary hearing. She submitted that the findings documented in the Investigation Report were not capable, taken at their highest, of amounting to gross misconduct. She further submitted that her actions should not be considered cumulatively, but that the allegations should be considered separately and in isolation of one another.

The Trust defended the proceedings on the basis that there was sufficient evidence to support an allegation of potential gross misconduct. Additionally the allegations were so closely linked that they should not be considered in isolation, but rather, cumulatively to form the correct view of Dr Ardron’s conduct, treatment and care of the patient.

The High Court ruled in favour of the Trust.

Commenting on the case, Catherine Daw, head of employment at Brachers, said: “We were very pleased to have successfully represented Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in this important case. The ruling is clear: while a small number of incidents of negligence may not amount to gross misconduct, a number of more serious incidents, that are closely linked, may be considered together and may justify a gross misconduct case being brought. This judgment provides clarity to NHS employers in cases of this nature and specifically the requirements of MHPS processes. It also has wider ramifications for employers in other sectors who are considering bringing gross misconduct cases against employees and provides clarity around the threshold for findings of gross misconduct.”

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