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Patient Safety Trumps Psychiatrist’s Disability Discrimination Claim

In a case which underlined the overriding importance of patient safety in the healthcare professions, a psychiatrist who was prevented from working in a consultant’s role after he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome has failed to convince the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that he was a victim of disability discrimination.

Concerns had been raised as to the psychiatrist’s practice and competence, in particular relating to his communication skills, soon after he took up employment as a consultant. A remediation programme was recommended by the National Clinical Assessment Service which was not ultimately put into effect.

Relations between him and his NHS Trust employer deteriorated steadily and, after a deadlock was reached, he went on long-term sick leave. He was given notice after turning down an offer of a return to work in a less senior role. He launched Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings, claiming, amongst other things, that he had suffered detrimental treatment because of his disability.

In dismissing that claim, the ET found that, although he was medically well enough to perform a consultant’s role, he was not professionally fit to do so. In excluding him from returning to his former post, the Trust had rightly prioritised patient protection and had used proportionate means in achieving that objective.

Rejecting the psychiatrist’s challenge to that decision, the EAT accepted that there were no reasonable adjustments that the Trust could have made which would have adequately addressed his clinical deficiencies. The ET’s decision was based on ample evidence and disclosed no error of law.