The former chief executive of Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust has been awarded £1.2m in compensation for unfair dismissal over whistleblowing.

John Watkinson, who was sacked from his post in 2009, claims he was dismissed for raising concerns about the proposed centralisation of upper gastro-intestinal cancer services at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth without a full public inquiry.

An employment tribunal ruled earlier this year that he had been unfairly dismissed and in July it said he should receive an interim compensation payout of £67,250.

Last week the tribunal in Exeter ruled that Mr Watkinson should receive an additional sum of £1.2m for the whistleblowing part of his claim.

A spokesman for the trust said it was appealing the award relating to whistleblowing but accepted that Mr Watkinson had been unfairly dismissed.

In a statement Mr Watkinson, who began his NHS career as a hospital porter in 1974, said his dismissal was still affecting his ability to find a new post and described the award as “bittersweet”.

He said: “As the employment tribunal’s remedies hearing in July was told, my dismissal by Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust – though found to be grossly unfair – is still blighting my chance of finding work. It seems I can hold out little or no hope of a senior role in the service to which I have dedicated my professional life.

“As Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust has appealed only against the whistle-blowing dimension, it is now accepted that I was procedurally and substantively unfairly dismissed.”

Mr Watkinson was suspended in late 2008 after he obtained legal advice that the proposed centralisation of upper gastro-intestinal services needed public consultation.

The earlier tribunal in May was told NHS South West was set on taking the reconfiguration plan forward “regardless of how many people complained and whatever the views of clinicians and boards”.

In its judgement, the tribunal said obtaining the legal advice “was a severe irritant to the SHA’s intentions” and that it inferred that he was dismissed by the trust as a result of the pressure from the SHA. “Put shortly, he was to be got rid of,” it said.

Mr Watkinson alleged that a report into the financial situation at his former trust Bromley Hospitals – which had debts of £87m – was then used as a way of justifying his removal, despite his concerns that it misrepresented the situation.

He was dismissed in April 2009, after a review into the running of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust was critical of his leadership. His appeal against dismissal was rejected and a 13-day employment tribunal hearing in March looked at the innermost workings of the NHS.

The trust pointed to the critical Bromley report and a second report into the running of Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, which said it was heading towards corporate failure, to justify the decision to dismiss Mr Watkinson due to a breakdown in trust and confidence.

In June health secretary Andrew Lansley ordered an independent review into the SHA’s part in the events surrounding the case.  

Upper gastro-intestinal cancer surgery for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly was transferred in January from the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro to be solely provided at Derriford Hospital.

A separate independent report on the service reconfiguration itself concluded in July that it had been in the best interests of patients.