Disciplinary processes in the NHS are to come under the microscope after ministers ordered an independent investigation into the death of a nurse, which attracted widespread media attention last year.
Health minister Philip Dunne has intervened in the case of Amin Abdullah who died after setting himself on fire in the grounds of Kensington Palace in February 2016, according to Health Service Journal.
“The trust accepts that there were delays in the disciplinary process”
Mr Abdullah, who previously worked at Charing Cross Hospital, had been experiencing mental health issues following a delayed disciplinary process and dismissal from his job with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
After meeting with his partner Terry Skitmore last month, officials from the Department of Health and NHS Improvement have instructed the trust to conduct an independent investigation into its management of the disciplinary policies and procedures that led to Mr Abdullah’s dismissal.
A letter to Mr Skitmore from the minister also sets out plans by the DH to discuss with the Care Quality Commission how it may in future examine disciplinary processes as part of the “well-led” section in the regulator’s inspection regime.
He also said DH officials will attend the NHS Social Partnership Forum this month to discuss how to improve NHS disciplinary procedures.
In the letter, Mr Dunne said he was “committed” to “playing my part in ensuring disciplinary policies and procedures are appropriate and managed in a fair and equitable way by all trusts across the NHS”.
“I want the truth to come out about the way Amin was treated”
He added that he wanted to ensure “the leadership and culture across the NHS is one where mistakes, whether in disciplinary processes or errors where whistleblowing is needed, are highlighted and learned from rather than covered up and ignored with patients and staff suffering alike”.
In his 2015 Freedom to Speak Up report on whistleblowing, Sir Robert Francis linked the experience of whistleblowers, bullying and disciplinary processes, saying he had received “convincing evidence” that concerns often led to disciplinary action rather than attempts to address concerns.
Mr Abdullah, an award winning clinician, was suspended in September 2015 after he organised a petition and a letter of support for a colleague following a complaint by a patient.
An inquest into his death heard delays in the disciplinary process caused him anxiety. He was dismissed in December 2015 and a month later he voluntarily admitted himself to St Charles Mental Health Unit in London.
Charing cross hospital
Source: Creative Commons
On 8 February he left the unit unescorted and set himself on fire in the grounds of Kensington Palace. The coroner said Mr Abdullah “killed himself while the balance of his mind was disturbed”.
Mr Abdullah’s partner Terry Skitmore told Health Service Journal he welcomed the Department of Health’s intervention.
“I want the truth to come out about the way Amin was treated,” he said. “I firmly believe that the disciplinary process triggered Amin’s decline and the delays and lack of communication severely compounded this.
“Amin had no history of mental health illness,” he said. “The manner in which he was treated by Imperial turned him from a happy dedicated nurse to an urn of ashes.”
He added: “I can’t do anything for Amin now, he is at peace but I hope he didn’t die in vain. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen again. It is quite easy to do if there is a willingness to do it.”
Mr Skitmore said he first asked the trust to investigate Mr Abdullah’s death last year but he was ignored.
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A spokeswoman for Imperial College Healthcare confirmed that an independent investigation would take place after Philip Dunne’s intervention adding: “Trust managers and staff were very saddened by what happened to Amin Abdullah.
“The trust accepts that there were delays in the disciplinary process and has apologised for this as well as making improvements to its disciplinary procedures,” she said.
“Following the conclusion of the coroner’s inquest and further discussions with Mr Abdullah’s partner, the trust is commissioning an independent investigation into Mr Abdullah’s dismissal,” she added.