Suicidal NHS worker threatened with legal action awarded £92k

east of england ambulance service employment tribuna;
Image: Chris Radburn/PA Archive/PA Images

A former NHS worker who was threatened with legal action after reporting feeling suicidal has been awarded £92,000 in compensation by an employment tribunal.

Mr Flemming, a former ambulance technician at the East of England Ambulance Services NHS Trust, lost his job in 2015 after he failed to attend meetings and appointments with the trust’s occupational health function to discuss his physical and mental health. Earlier this year, the Norwich employment tribunal ruled his dismissal had been unfair.

After suffering a heart attack following an “altercation” with his line manager, Flemming claimed nobody at the trust had contacted him while he was on sickness absence to ask about his health.

There was a further incident with his manager after he came back to work, following which he did not return.

He was diagnosed with panic disorder and depression and mixed anxiety-depressive disorder. An occupational health practitioner also believed he had post traumatic embitterment disorder, which she said can result in “chronic” disability in “almost all areas of life”.

Numerous meetings with occupational health were arranged, but Flemming did not attend many them. The trust warned him that formal action would be taken or his sick pay halted if he did not attend.

When he contacted the organisation’s interim HR director, he suggested he was considering “ending it all” and that the Trust was trying to “push him over the edge”, to which he received the response: “I appreciate you may have mental health problems, but this letter is not acceptable. In future do not write to anyone else in the Trust except me. If you continue to write such letters we will refer them to our solicitors.”

The Norwich employment tribunal found that the interim HR director’s response “demonstrated no insight at all into the likely impact on a person contemplating suicide”.

Judge Richard Cassel said: “In our combined 60 years’ judicial experience we have not before seen such an appalling response… An employee having indicated that he was seriously contemplating suicide was told not to write accordingly otherwise such letters would be referred to the Trust’s solicitors. The claimant in giving evidence said that he felt that he had been cut adrift and that he had no access to human resources.

“We remind ourselves that as interim director of HR she was the head of HR for a substantial employer in the public sector employing 4,000 members of staff. She was responsible for the direction of HR as the guardian of good practice.”

In August the tribunal ordered the East of England Ambulance Services NHS Trust to pay Mr Flemming £92,214 in compensation for disability discrimination, comprising: £10,000 for injury to feelings, £20,000 for psychiatric injury and £62,214 for loss of earnings. It also made a £4,275 award for unfair dismissal.

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