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Sacked eye surgeon challenges dismissal in Royal Court

Sacked eye surgeon challenges dismissal in Royal Court

Thursday 20 September 2018

Sacked eye surgeon challenges dismissal in Royal Court


An eye surgeon told the Royal Court he was left confused and suicidal after being unexpectedly sacked just one week before starting a new role at Jersey's hospital, as he launched a legal challenge against his dismissal yesterday.

Jersey-born Dr Amar Alwitry had been offered a post as a consultant in ophthalmology, but was told his contract had been terminated before he was due to start on 1 December 2012 - not long after he had queried hospital practices.

He says he was never formally told what he did wrong, but believes it may have been because he raised issues over patient safety. However, the States Employment Board (SEB), who are answering Dr Alwitry's case, allege he was refusing to work on a Saturday – something Dr Alwitry denied again in Court yesterday.

The case prompted a number of investigations and counter-investigations with the SEB claiming it had done nothing wrong, and the States Complaints Board (SCB) - an independent body tasked with investigating grievances with the States - continually slamming the actions of the SEB. The SCB said they couldn't find any evidence that the surgeon's concerns had been addressed or investigated.

Dr Alwitry's dismissal even led to a confidence vote - brought by Deputy Mike Higgins - against Senators Ian Gorst, Alan Maclean and Andrew Green, and Constables Juliette Gallichan and Michel Le Troquer, who he said had behaved in a "shabby" way towards the surgeon.

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Pictured: The eye surgeon was due to start on 1 December 2012.

Dr Alwitry appeared in Royal Court yesterday to challenge his unfair dismissal. Represented by Advocate Steven Chiddicks, he went through a chain of emails he exchanged with several senior members of the hospital team from his initial application to the communications preceding his dismissal.

He explained that he was surprised when he was asked to start within three months, saying this was not "standard practice." He said that when filling out his application form he had indicated he needed to give six-months notice. "It's not my fault that no one read my application form properly," he told Court. He added that the initial job offer didn't mention a specific starting date, which it should have done if the hospital wanted someone to start in December 2012.

Dr Alwitry said that in the months leading to December 2012 his house was "In turmoil." He described it as a traumatic time brought on by a house fire and other circumstances. He said that he nonetheless agreed to work three days a week.  He asked the team to make sure future hires were made aware of starting times to avoid the confusion he had found himself in.

After sorting out the starting date, Dr Alwitry signed his contract and told his employer in Derby he was leaving. He was then sent a working plan where he found out he would be working one more clinic than colleagues on the same contract as him, and raised the issue with the Human Resources Department.

He also noticed he would be carrying out surgeries, including for cataracts, on a Friday. He says he was concerned that his patients would be left over the weekend without trained staff to look after them, if anything happened. He said: "During the week we have a fully-staffed eye clinic, trained nurses, everybody is there to look after post-op patients. There is no ward available, no eye-trained nurses at the weekend."

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Pictured: Dr Alwitry told Court he was concerned his patients wouldn't received suitable care over the weekend after a surgery.

While he volunteered to work on Saturdays to look after his patients, Dr Alwitry said he would rather avoid it. A number of emails followed between him and senior officers but in early October, Dr Alwitry received an email which had been copied to a number of staff members. He said that the tone of the email made him feel as if he was "to put up or shut up." He said he then phoned the individual, adding "the rest is history."

Dr Alwitry said that when he received the letter telling him his contract had been terminated, he "vomited, then I went to bed and cried." "I was confused, I was upset, sad," he said, adding that he contemplated killing himself. He said the letter came a week before he was due to start and after one of his children had passed an entry test into a local school. He didn't expect such a letter as his last words to one Director had been, "I look forward to seeing you in December."

Although he subsequently said he would agree to anything and asked the Hospital team to reconsider, Dr Alwitry was never reinstated.

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Pictured: The Solicitor General Mark Temple is representing the States Employment Board.

Dr Alwitry was cross-examined by the Solicitor General Mark Temple, who is representing the States Employment Board. The Solicitor General explained that there was a "real urgency" for the Hospital to hire a third consultant in ophthalmology, adding that senior staff members had discussed a starting date in mid to end of November 2012. Dr Alwitry denied repeatedly discussing a start date with anyone. "I am telling you categorically under oath that he did not mention the start date," he stated.

Dr Alwitry also said that he didn't argue discussing the start date at the time and simply went along with it, because "I am a decent individual who does not like conflict."

The case which is being heard by Royal Court Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith, sitting with Jurats Antony Olsen and Geoffrey Grime, is expected to continue until Friday.

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