The head of Tasmania’s Health Department, David Roberts was involved in a five-year dispute in the United Kingdom with a heart surgeon who was suspended on allegations of bullying which cost British taxpayers up to five million pounds.
The doctor was reinstated.
The case has echoes of the suspension of Royal Hobart Hospital chief executive officer Michael Pervan, who was dumped by Mr Roberts last September after allegations of bullying were levelled against him by a number of senior hospital staff.
Mr Pervan’s removal shocked many nurses and doctors, who claimed that in his first year in the job, Mr Pervan was tackling shortcomings and systemic inefficiencies in the running of the hospital.
In the case of heart surgeon Dr Raj Mattu, his supporters claimed he was suspended because he was a whistleblower. It was later revealed that the bullying allegations against him related to alleged pressure by him on two junior doctors to back his complaints.
David Roberts was appointed chief executive officer of then Walsgrave Hospital and later University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire National Health Service Trust (University Hospitals) in June 2002, four months after Dr Mattu was suspended. Dr Mattu had been critical of management at Walsgrave Hospital after it came under fire in 2001 from the National Commission for Health Improvement, which found areas of serious concern with patient care.
He was suspended shortly after an interview with BBC TV.
On his appointment as CEO, Mr Roberts told Coventry’s ‘The Telegraph’ that he was focussed on the future - including a planned multi-million pound, privately financed new hospital. In August 2007, five years later and a month after Mr Roberts left his job at University Hospitals, Coventry MP and then British Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth told ‘The Telegraph’ that he had repeatedly pressured Mr Roberts to bring the Mattu case to a conclusion.
Mr Roberts was CEO of University Hospitals until July 31, 2007. In late 2007, then Health and Human Services Minister Lara Giddings, now Deputy Premier and Treasurer, appointed him head of her department.
While he was not responsible for the initial suspension of the heart surgeon, the Dr Raj Mattu Reinstatement Committee was critical of the handling of the case by Mr Roberts after his appointment as CEO, and of University Hospitals then Chief Operating Officer, Alice Casey.
In 2008, Ms Casey, now called Alice Burchill, was appointed by Lara Giddings to the newly-created Health Department post of Deputy Secretary Care and Reform.
While Mr Roberts’ job as CEO of University Hospitals ended on July 31, 2007, he had been on leave for some time. On the day his appointment ended officially, Coventry’s ‘The Telegraph’ reported that acting CEO Martin Lee had lifted Dr Mattu’s five-year suspension.
In March 2009, the British Medical Council exonerated Dr Mattu of more than 150 complaints made against him by University Hospitals - after one of the longest and costliest suspensions in the history of the National Health Service. In June 2009, however, Mr Roberts told Tasmanian Times the Mattu case was unresolved when he left and that he did not know the outcome.
The official cost of Dr Mattu’s suspension was 2.1 million pounds, but an estimated 2 million pounds was spent on legal costs, plus the cost of locums to replace Dr Mattu, taking the total cost of his suspension to an estimated five million pounds.
Margaretta Pos’ article was submitted to Mercury as a letter, but rejected.
On Tasmanian Times:
RHH chief’s job battle
SUE NEALES | January 06, 2011 12.01am
DUMPED Royal Hobart Hospital chief executive Michael Pervan is likely to find out today if he can have his old job back after bullying allegations.
Acting State Service Commissioner Iain Frawley is expected to hand down his decision ruling whether the Health Department followed due process or accorded Mr Pervan natural justice in mysteriously removing him from his top hospital post in September.
Mr Pervan was suddenly stood down from his $200,000-a-year position by Health Department supremo David Roberts amid investigations into what are now known to be allegations of bullying levelled by several senior hospital staff against the RHH chief.
However, his shock removal in late September was followed by an unprecedented revolt by nurses and doctors, with claims the popular Mr Pervan was tackling, in his first year in the job, shortcomings and ingrained inefficiencies that no one else had dared address.
The subsequent confidential inquiry into the claims made against Mr Pervan, including that his alleged bullying was a breach of the State Service Act potentially warranting his sacking, appears to have opened up a can of worms for the State Government.
A finding by Mr Frawley that Mr Pervan has not been fairly dealt with or has been denied natural justice, or that the bullying allegations have little foundation, could expose Tasmanian taxpayers to further legal action and a substantial compensation payment for damage to Mr Pervan’s reputation.
The case also has uneasy parallels to the $183,000 government ex-gratia payment made to Tasmania’s suspended police chief Jack Johnston in February 2010, after he was twice vindicated following failed criminal proceedings and police code-of-conduct allegations against him.
It is understood Mr Pervan just wants his job back as RHH head so he can continue the reforms he started and oversee the $565 million redevelopment of the hospital.
He does not want to quit or have the remaining four years of his five-year contract, worth nearly $1 million, paid out.
Unusually for a senior hospital executive, Mr Pervan’s appeal to the State Service Commissioner against his treatment and the bullying allegations has been backed by the union representing health workers and most hospital staff, the Health and Community Services Union.
HACSU state secretary Tim Jacobson believes the original bullying allegations against Mr Pervan were both “frivolous and vexatious”.
But he also contends that the way Mr Pervan has been treated by the Department of Health and Human Services since the allegations were made last September holds potential ramifications for the job security and right to natural justice of every public servant in Tasmania.
Mr Pervan appealed his standing-down and the validity of the bullying allegations to the State Service Commissioner in November.
He claimed he was the unwitting victim of a witch-hunt by several hospital staff threatened by the changes he was making at the hospital, and that he had been denied procedural fairness and justice by the department.
A formal external investigation into the initial allegations against Mr Pervan was instigated by DHHS secretary Mr Roberts on October 22 .
But the interstate investigator appointed by Mr Roberts, Sydney lawyer and workplace grievances expert Jocelyn Sparks, did not interview Mr Pervan for his version of events during her inquiry .
Ms Sparks’ findings and report to Mr Roberts and the head of the Public Sector Management Office, Frank Ogle, have not been made public.
But the sidelined chief executive immediately appealed his treatment - and his lack of any direct dealings with Ms Sparks - to the State Service Commissioner.
Mr Pervan claimed he had been denied a fair right of reply, that there had been a miscarriage of justice and that his removal from his job was unjustified, wrongful and itself a breach of public service laws.
Since being first sent on leave and then stood aside, Mr Pervan has been demoted to work as part of an internal DHHS team on plans for redevelopment of the RHH.