Senior nurse unfairly dismissed by NHS board, tribunal rules

Jeff Horn ‘gobsmacked’ by decision after two periods of stress-induced sick leave

Jeff Horn ‘gobsmacked’ by decision after two periods of stress-induced sick leave

The employment tribunal also ruled unlawful discrimination. Picture: iStock

A senior nurse with an ‘unblemished’ career was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against by an NHS board, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Cancer clinical nurse specialist Jeff Horn was dismissed by NHS Grampian in December 2017 in a meeting that lasted less than 10 minutes.

Under pressure to manage new staff members

According to the Aberdeen tribunal’s judgement document, Mr Horn developed a depressive illness in early 2016 due to having to manage two new specialist nurses despite having no previous line management experience. Ongoing staff shortages also added to the pressure he was experiencing.  

‘He was stressed at work and felt he had no one to turn to,’ according to the tribunal document published at the end of October.

Mr Horn began a period of sick leave in August 2016, which was signed off due to ‘stress at work’.

Mr Horn made an initially positive return to work

After regular meetings with an occupational health physician from March 2017, he began a phased return to work from September that year.

‘Things were starting to look up,’ Mr Horn said in his evidence to the tribunal, and his occupational health physician said the nurse felt 'very supported'.

However, an anonymous complaint that Mr Horn had been working while on sick leave was made to NHS Grampian in late September 2017.

Though the complaint was found to be without evidence, Mr Horn said the experience had a profound effect on him, sending him ‘back to rock bottom’.

Meeting was set up to discuss Mr Horn’s options

He was signed off on sick leave again in November 2017, and said he was invited to a meeting with his employer the following month ‘to discuss your options’.

The meeting lasted less than 10 minutes, and Mr Horn was subsequently told that his employment would be terminated ‘on the grounds of ill health’.

Mr Horn told the tribunal that he was ‘gobsmacked’ by the decision, having expected some discussion of other options.

Verdict of unfair dismissal and unlawful discrimination

The tribunal ruled that NHS Grampian had unfairly dismissed Mr Horn, and that there was unlawful discrimination in its decision to terminate his employment.

It acknowledged that there was no meaningful discussion at the December meeting, during which alternative options were not considered. 

The tribunal also noted that Mr Horn’s disability status – which NHS Grampian acknowledged during the tribunal, which took place earlier this year– was not considered during the dismissal process, and that this amounted to discrimination.

The next step in the process

Mr Horn and NHS Grampian have been given four weeks by the tribunal’s conclusion to reach a settlement, and the case will proceed to a remedy hearing if no agreement is reached.

An NHS Grampian spokesperson said the trust noted the decision of the tribunal panel and that it was inappropriate to comment further.

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