No victimisation?

November 3, 2000

Radiologist Peter Dawson was not victimised by his managers at Imperial College, London for raising the alarm about risks to patients and accounting inadequacies at Hammersmith Hospital.

This is the conclusion of the unpublished report of the inquiry for the Department of Health by Ian Cameron, vice-chancellor of the University of Wales Medical School, into allegations of victimisation at Imperial's department of imaging. But Professor Dawson and his supporters think there should be an inquiry into the inquiry.

According to Professor Cameron's summary of his findings, Professor Dawson "drew attention to areas which had the potential to affect patient safety". He had acted appropriately by expressing concerns to the relevant people about the handling of financial accounts and about training and on-call arrangements that "may not have provided the very highest level of cover for every eventuality".

Professor Cameron said there had been "a regrettable misunderstanding over the handling, by the department, of two (of Dawson's) accounts with Imperial". In May 1998, Professor Dawson complained that two research grants in his name that he had not touched were jointly overdrawn by almost Pounds 14,000, The THES has learned. He again complained in August 1998 that some Pounds 34,469 had been taken from one of his Medical Research Council research grants without his authorisation. Imperial later claimed that it made a Pounds 22,541 charge against the grant "in error", and it had to correct another Pounds 11,928 charge made erroneously after an investigation by the MRC's director of finance.

The report confirms that Professor Dawson "encountered difficulties a short time after bringing attention, in May 1998, to the on-call and training arrangements" and to a problem with his accounts. In July 1998, Imperial College told Professor Dawson he faced allegations that he had "been making statements that could be construed as damaging to the name and reputation of Imperial College" and that "certain staff" had complained about unspecified behaviour.

Disciplinary action was initiated, but Professor Dawson resigned, with a pay-off and a new job for the same NHS trust, before an internal tribunal could sit.

Professor Cameron found that there were "weaknesses in the way Imperial dealt with matters". He was "particularly concerned... by the worrying number of persons" who "felt unwilling to speak out about matters".

Despite this, Professor Cameron concluded that Professor Dawson had not been victimised for his whistleblowing. And neither had two other members of staff in the department who had raised concerns and had subsequently suffered problems with management.

Professor Cameron's summary makes no mention of the evidence he received showing that complaints against Professor Dawson were solicited by David Allison, director of the imaging department.

It seems that key to Professor Cameron's conclusion that Professor Dawson was not victimised was his assertion that one allegation against Dawson - that "he was behaving in a manner detrimental to the smooth running of the department" - had been made before he blew the whistle. But Professor Dawson, who had an unblemished 13-year career at Imperial, insists he knows nothing of any complaint predating his whistleblowing and that Professor Cameron did not put this significant allegation to him before submitting his report.

Professor Cameron said the report was confidential and was in the hands of the Department of Health. He declined to comment. Imperial said it was pleased the report found there was no unfair treatment of whistleblowers and that a line should be drawn under the events. Professor Allison, who will soon take early retirement, was unavailable for comment, but he said through a spokesman that he had been exonerated.

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