A UK-wide private provider of nursing services must pay the legal costs of a whistleblowing nurse, according to a tribunal that described the firm as “unreasonably hostile”.
Nurse Elaine Fernandez was awarded more than £80,000 by an employment tribunal last year, after it ruled she was unfairly dismissed and suffered detriment for making protected whistleblowing disclosures.
In the latest development, tribunal judges awarded Ms Fernandez a full costs order, which means she will receive an estimated £30,000 to cover her legal costs. Tribunal judges criticised home care provider Allied Healthcare for its approach to the case.
“What was shocking was that a company like Allied Healthcare, whose business is caring, could treat anyone like they did me in my case”
The tribunal said Allied Healthcare had pursued a “defensive position” that was “unreasonably hostile”. It added: “This was a case in which [Allied Healthcare] chose to contest each and every aspect of the claimant’s case without, it would appear, any regard or scrutiny as to whether there was a reasonable basis.
“For no good or obvious reason, it appeared to the tribunal [that Allied Healthcare] had taken the view that the claimant was a troublemaker, and that view had informed and underpinned its entire response to the claim,” it stated.
“In its defence of the claim, [Allied Healthcare] had adopted an unreasonably hostile position and raised unrealistic contentions that had no reasonable prospects of success,” it said. “As a consequence the claimant was put to considerable time and expense in pursuing her meritorious claim.”
Ms Fernandez raised concerns after Hywel Dda Health Board in Wales – which commissioned Allied Healthcare to provide nursing care for a disabled patient – decided to replace nurses with healthcare assistants.
She sent a confidential email to the health board expressing her concerns, which was forwarded to her managers at Allied hours later.
She was then repeatedly threatened with disciplinary action and eventually suspended and given no further work. At one stage, managers from Allied Healthcare tried unsuccessfully to encourage the patient’s husband to complain about her.
The tribunal originally concluded her “sole motive” for speaking out had been to “protect the safety and welfare” of her patient.
Speaking after the ruling, Ms Fernandez said: “What was shocking was that a company like Allied Healthcare, whose business is caring, could treat anyone like they did me in my case.”
Allied Healthcare has previously said it had introduced a new governance model and whistleblowing policies since the case, and it was confident this situation would not happen again.
It was unavailable to comment on the tribunal costs ruling.