The boss of one the largest NHS trusts in the country has apologised after an independent investigation found a nurse who took his own life after being sacked was treated unfairly.
Amin Abdullah, 41, died in February 2016 after setting himself on fire outside Kensington Palace, just days before he was due to attend a hearing to appeal his dismissal from Charing Cross Hospital in London. The award-winning nurse had no previous history of depression or mental illness.
“It is now clear that we let Amin down and, for that, I am truly sorry”
Consultancy firm Verita was commissioned to carry out an investigation into the management of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust’s disciplinary process that resulted in Mr Abdullah losing his job.
Its damning report, published today, determined that the trust handled the procedure poorly and that charges held against Mr Abdullah were “completely unjustified” and “misplaced”.
His partner of 12 years, Terry Skitmore, who was instrumental in triggering the investigation, welcomed the report and said Mr Abdullah had finally been “vindicated”.
“It is clear from the evidence that Nurse Abdullah was treated unfairly”
Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust chief executive, Professor Tim Orchard, admitted that Mr Abdullah should not have been dismissed.
Professor Orchard said he would now be commissioning a full overhaul of the trust’s disciplinary processes, both formal and informal, and was introducing interim measures to ensure all current and new cases met standards.
He added: “This has been a thorough and fair investigation and we accept all of its findings and recommendations. Above all else, it is now clear that we let Amin down and, for that, I am truly sorry.”
In September 2015, the manager of the ward on which Mr Abdullah worked received an email from a patient raising concerns about a member of staff referred to in the report as Nurse X.
It said Nurse X was asked to provide a response and she subsequently submitted a letter, as well as a petition including signatures of support from colleagues.
Charing Cross Hospital
The report said Mr Abdullah was referred for a disciplinary hearing after it was discovered he had helped Nurse X write the letter and was also one of 18 people to sign the petition.
A three-month delay in the proceedings and lack of updates from the trust caused Mr Abdullah to slip into a depressive state.
His Royal College of Nursing representative asked the trust to make an urgent referral to occupational health for Mr Abdullah, which was not followed through.
He was then fired in December 2015. He wrote a letter of appeal but the response he received was “unduly harsh”, the investigation found.
Mr Abdullah, who was born in Malaysia and grew up in an orphanage, voluntarily admitted himself to St Charles Mental Health Unit in London early in 2016.
He subsequently took his own life on 9 February during a period of leave from the unit ahead of his appeal hearing.
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The Verita report was critical of the member of staff responsible for investigating the claims against Mr Abdullah that formed the basis of the disciplinary.
The report said: “The evidence shows that the investigating officer repeatedly raised questions about nurse Abdullah’s honesty on the basis of little or no evidence.
“She also failed to disclose evidence which was critical of her but which tended to exculpate nurse Abdullah,” it said. “The trust should consider the implications for the investigating officer’s integrity and, ultimately, her suitability for her role as a senior member of staff in the trust.”
“I really hope that Amin hasn’t died for nothing”
A summary report produced by a senior HR manager at the trust following Mr Abdullah’s death was also considered to contain “important inaccuracies” about the case that “gave the trust false assurance that it had done nothing wrong”.
The authors of the investigation, which was overseen by a stakeholder panel including representatives from NHS Improvement and Mr Skitmore, concluded that it “was clear from the evidence that nurse Abdullah was treated unfairly”.
Among the recommendations made to the trust were that it should provide improved training to those conducting investigations and hearings, take steps to better support staff through disciplinary procedures, and to provide staff under investigation with regular written updates if their case is delayed.
Professor Orchard said issues raised in the report about the actions of specific members of staff would be followed up.
Amin Abdullah and Terry Skitmore
Source: Terry Skitmore
Speaking to Nursing Times, Mr Skitmore said he would keeping a close eye on the trust to ensure improvements were made and that he hoped lessons could be shared nationally.
He said: “I really hope that Amin hasn’t died for nothing – if it means that other people get a fair hearing and not a kangaroo court then that would be good.”
He added: “This has now vindicated him. He didn’t do anything malicious or wrong or bad and they totally twisted everything round and what on earth for? They lost one of their best nurses and I lost my partner.”
Mr Skitmore, 65, highlighted that the trust ignored his requests for an investigation into Mr Abdullah’s case until he got politicians involved. The review was eventually ordered by former health minister Philip Dunne.
Mr Skitmore said he planned to launch an award for nurses in Mr Abdullah’s name in partnership with Professor Narinder Kapur.
The pair have funded the project for five years and recipients will be those who demonstrate clinical excellence and compassion for colleagues.