• Employment tribunal finds practice manager in Ealing unfairly dismissed
  • But tribunal rules she would have been dismissed anyway for quadrupling her own salary and awarding £2,000 a month to her mother
  • Tribunal hears claims of forgery, unauthorised payments, theft and death threats – and finds both parties unreliable as witnesses

A GP unfairly dismissed her practice manager, a tribunal has found, after the manager and her mother gave themselves large unauthorised pay rises.

The single-GP practice in London failed to carry out a proper disciplinary investigation, a tribunal ruled in a judgment this month, making the dismissal unfair. The tribunal ruled that, because of her unfair dismissal, practice manager Sareet Sidhu was owed £2,668 in unpaid wages.

However, it also concluded Ms Sidhu would have been dismissed anyway, for increasing her own salary from £24,000 to £95,000 with six payrises in four years.

Ms Sidhu worked at a practice in Ealing with a patient list of roughly 6,000. Her dispute with her employer led to her and her mother being accused of theft, forgery, appropriating £100,000 meant for the practice, making death threats and improperly increasing salaries.

She in turn accused the GP – Sangeetha Rathor – of treating patients while under the influence of alcohol and “incorrectly prescribing medication for the practice’s benefit and the benefit of family members”.

Dr Rathor took over the Northolt Family Practice where Ms Sidhu worked in 2014, combining it with her own Allenby Practice.

Watford Employment Tribunal heard that, by 2017, Ms Sidhu had become practice manager and her mother was the business manager. By October that year, both had been suspended.

The judgment said: “It is clear to us that until at least June 2017 all three got on very well, both at work and socially.

“It is quite clear to us that there was a significant falling out, for whatever reason, between the claimant [Ms Sidhu] and her mother and the respondent [Dr Rathor] at some point between July 2017 and 4 October 2017.

“This case has been characterised by the seriousness and number of allegations made by each of the parties against the other in great detail.”

The tribunal also heard a claim from Ms Sidhu’s mother that she was, in fact, a partner in the practice, and saw a partnership form detailing this.

However, Dr Rathor said her signature on the form was “either a forgery or was procured by deceiving her into signing the document on the basis that she was told that it was merely to record a change of address.

“The respondent’s case is that the claimant’s mother was never a partner and was always merely an employee. We are aware that separate proceedings between the claimant’s mother and the respondent are currently being conducted in a different jurisdiction.”

The tribunal described financial controls at the practice as “lax in the extreme”.

The judgment said: “We find also that in all probability the claimant and her mother took advantage of the lax financial controls and casual management to raise the claimant’s hourly rate and pay her an extra £2,000 per month beginning in May 2017.

“The claimant’s mother did the same and withdrew substantial amounts in cash monthly. The claimant must have been aware of what her mother was doing.”

The tribunal concluded Dr Rathor was “extremely busy” with the clinical side of the practice and Ms Sidhu and her mother “were left to do the administrative work with a good deal of autonomy”.

A statement from Dr Rathor to the disciplinary hearing which led to Ms Sidhu’s dismissal referred to her “luxury lifestyle”, including “exotic holidays, sports cars, branded clothing and accessories and diamond necklaces”, plus owning two houses.

The judges dismissed Ms Sidhu’s whistleblowing claim, saying the concerns she had raised were “for mutual protection and, latterly, in order to provide potential leverage over the respondent”.

The tribunal heard Ms Sidhu had taken a photograph of Dr Rathor sitting in her car with her eyes shut at 7.20pm one evening, “in support of an allegation that the respondent was drunk and had to be driven home”.

“Similarly, the day after the claimant’s mother had been challenged by the respondent over her salary level, the claimant photographed numerous blank but signed prescriptions.

“These acts suggest to us that the claimant and her mother were preparing for conflict with [Dr Rathor] and that they wanted to get compromising evidence on her to defend themselves or influence any investigation. We find that such pre-emptive actions are more consistent with having something to hide, namely that they had awarded themselves salary increases without the agreement of the respondent.”

The tribunal said Ms Sidhu and Dr Rathor would sometimes drink alcohol at lunchtime but there was no evidence they were “adversely” affected by it.

However, the tribunal ruled that, on the balance of probabilities, blank prescriptions had been pre-signed and “nurses in effect [were allowed] to prescribe drugs”.

The judgment also noted the allegations of “prescribing medication and appliances for herself in patient’s names and paying private expenses from the practice’s funds” were probably true.

But the tribunal panel said in their opinion neither party in the case could be wholly trusted.

The Care Quality Commission rates the practice as “requires improvement”, with an “inadequate” rating for well-led.

Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group said the practices were paid £692,000 in 2017-18 and £704,000 in 2018-19, including £77,000 in quality and outcomes framework payments each year.

In a statement, the CCG said it had been aware of the case but that the practice was now “receiving support from the CCG and has an improvement action plan in place to ensure improvement is regularly monitored and reviewed”.

Asked for a copy of the improvement plan, the North West London Collaboration of Clinical Commissioning Groups said it had been developed by the practice itself.

HSJ approached the practice for comment and was unable to reach Ms Sidhu.