Helen Hunt reports exclusively on the claims surrounding the sacking of a leading Merseyside heart consultant
A PIONEERING heart doctor sacked amid allegations he was using the NHS to fuel a private enterprise is fighting his dismissal.
Professor Mike Chester was suspended and then dismissed by bosses at the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen hospital trust (RLBUHT).
The world-renowned heart disease consultant from Wirral – who ran the National Refractory Angina Centre (NRAC) – has taken the Trust to an employment tribunal claiming he was unfairly dismissed.
In a statement released to The Post by his lawyers this week Prof Chester claims he was only targeted when he “raised the alarm over fraud and patient safety issues”.
This is understood to relate to his belief that patients were undergoing unnecessary surgery at the then Cardiothoracic Centre, in Broadgreen, which was being charged to the NHS.
The Trust strongly refutes any suggestion Prof Chester was targeted due to whistleblowing.
Bosses at the Trust accused him of committing a number of acts of “gross misconduct” and dismissed him on September 23, 2011.
But, in his tribunal papers, he claims unfair dismissal, that he has suffered as a result of whistleblowing and disability discrimination (Prof Chester has a long-standing disability).
His complaint dates back as far as 2001/03 when he worked for the Cardiothoracic Centre, now the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital.
Although the tribunal is not finished a default judgment ruled in his favour – that he was unfairly dismissed by the Trust.
The default judgment was made because the Trust had failed to give a timely response. An appeal tribunal will decide in March if the Trust can take any further part in the hearing.
Prof Chester’s dismissal follows a meeting in which serious concerns were raised about a company called Virtual Angina Ltd (VA) which Prof Chester owns alongside his wife, Lorraine Cunningham, who owns 95% of its shares.
An extraordinary meeting of the NRAC patient support group on August 18, 2010, heard claims that Prof Chester might have been pursuing his own VA business in NHS time or on sick leave.
Also raised during this meeting was a concern that equipment donated to NRAC may be being used for promotion of VA interests.
There is a dispute over who originally made these claims (see panel, right).
The Post has also obtained a letter from the doctors’ watchdog, the GMC, looking into complaints from Prof Chester against Dr Austin Leach, a pain specialist who was on the original NRAC implementation team with Prof Chester.
The Professor expressed concerns to the GMC that Dr Leach and others were seeking to undermine his role as director of the NRAC. Prof Chester insists he was only forwarding the concerns of patients.