Published: 28/03/2002, Volume II2, No. 5798 Page 6

MPs have condemned the treatment of a suspended consultant at the centre of a breakdown in relationships between clinicians and managers at Walsgrave Hospital.

A Commons debate - the third into the running of Coventry and Warwickshire University Hospitals trust - focused on cardiologist Dr Raj Mattu, who last month was suspended over allegations of intimidation and harassment of a junior doctor.

Former Labour minister Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North West) said the allegations against Dr Mattu, a 'top-flight surgeon', were 'childish' and motivated by 'self-interested tittle-tattle'.

He claimed Dr Mattu's suspension was 'inspired' by chief executive David Loughton, who, he alleged, had a hit-list of five people at the trust 'whom he was going to get rid of before he left, by suspension or some other method'.

Mr Robinson pointed out that Dr Mattu had complained two years ago about the practice of having five patients in bays designed for four. The practice formed one of the central criticisms of a damning Commission for Health Improvement clinical governance review last September, which led to the trust receiving no stars in the government's ratings.

Dr Mattu was also one of over 60 clinicians who signed a petition calling for Mr Loughton to resign last year. Mr Loughton resigned earlier this month and is now working out his notice.

Mr Robinson said the manner of Dr Mattu's suspension 'smacks of the arrest procedures characteristic of a communist or fascist dictatorship.'He claimed the consultant was marched off the premises without any attempt at conciliation or warning and the lock changed on his office.

He admitted that Dr Mattu 'may be a little to blame for the fact that personal relationships between him and his staff in the department are not perfect. But knocking heads together - including Dr Mattu's, if required - is the right strategy'.

Four other local Labour MPs joined the attacks on the management of the trust - Jim Cunningham (Coventry South), Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth), James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) and Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire).

Conservative Simon Burns (West Chelmsford), a member of the health select committee, said: 'The chief executive, David Loughton, seems to have been the cause and catalyst of many of the problems that emerged in the hospital through his management style, his high-handedness and his actions.'

All four local MPs condemned what they described as the dysfunctional management at Walsgrave Hospital, but stressed their support for clinical staff.

Mr O'Brien said: 'The clinical staff, senior consultants, nurses and those who support them have all worked enormously hard to deliver good-quality medical care to patients, but they have been handicapped by the quality of organisation that is supposed to run the hospital.'

'We are trying to recruit people from abroad, but [Dr Mattu] may be out for up to two years for harassing or having a set-to with some of his junior staff, ' he added.

In reply to the MPs, public health minister Yvette Cooper noted their concerns, but she praised the trust's staff for their work on the action plan following last year's CHI report Asked why the trust's management had been 'franchised' rather than simply a new appointment being made, she said: 'The process of franchising is only for trusts that are zero-rated, to signal the need for broad and substantial change to solve their problems. It builds change into the process of appointment.'

A spokesperson for Coventry and Warwickshire University Hospitals trust said it could not comment on the allegations surrounding Dr Mattu's suspension as its internal inquiry was still running and stressed that the MPs' comments had been made under parliamentary privilege.