• Union official warned over “public harrassment”
  • Trust accused of not doing enough on equality
  • Case follows £1m payout after employment tribunal

A trust chief executive and a union secretary are locked in a war of words over the trust’s handling of an employment tribunal and the fate of its workforce director.

Peter Herring, who was interim chief executive of King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust until this month, threatened to “seek legal advice” after Unite branch secretary Frank Wood sent members a statement in March saying the trust’s director of workforce, Dawn Brodrick, should “go”.

In a letter to Mr Wood in late March, just before he left the trust, Mr Herring said: “The tone of your letter could be construed as bullying in nature and reflects the culture and behaviours that you say are endemic across King’s.”

Mr Herring accused Mr Wood of acting inappropriately and unprofessionally in naming Ms Brodrick, describing it as “public harassment”.

Mr Wood’s statement, which was sent to Unite members at the trust and according to the trust was also posted on walls, read: “The present director of workforce has consistently failed to promote equality of opportunity and for four years in a row has presided over the worst outcomes for staff health and wellbeing in the NHS, I would be denying my duties as union officer at King’s if I did not say clearly and directly that it is about time that Dawn Brodrick went.

“She does not enjoy any shred of my confidence and Unite members are tired of the trust’s consistent failure to address the concerns and welfare of staff.”

Mr Wood had previously contacted the new chair of King’s, Sir Hugh Taylor, with his concerns, which included a “hostile climate and indifference to [black, Asian, and minority ethnic] staff grievances”. He said the trust – which was involved in a high profile employment tribunal case in 2018 where a BAME manager was awarded £1m for unfair dismissal – had no senior equalities committee or proper ethnicity monitoring.

The employment tribunal was brought by Richard Hastings, an IT manager at the trust, who was dismissed for gross misconduct in October 2015 after an incident in a car park. The tribunal found in favour of his claims for racial discrimination and unfair dismissal, with the judgment stating the dismissal process had been ”procedurally and substantively unfair”. It, however, dimissed Mr Hastings’ claims for victimisation. 

The tribunal also found the investigation into the incident – in which Mr Hastings, who is of Caribbean descent, was accused of assault after he had been racially abused – was tainted by “unconscious bias” against him.

The union wrote to the trust after this case, raising concerns about the conduct of the trust during the disciplinary process and during the tribunal. It claimed the trust had tried to deny there was a problem and had failed to offer reassurance to the unions around equalities.

In a statement, the trust – which is now led by Clive Kay – said: The trust believes that there should be robust debate regarding the challenges that we face. However, it has a zero tolerance policy to bullying and harassment as defined by ACAS.

“In our view, the statements made by Mr Wood were not appropriate and the trust responded accordingly. The trust takes its responsibilities as an employer very seriously, especially in terms of supporting and championing equality, diversity and inclusion. As well as supporting a number of staff networks, we have put into place a number of initiatives. However, we accept that more can be done and will continue to work closely and cooperatively with unions and staff.”

It added that it did not have the worst staff survey score in England for health and wellbeing as there were non-acute trusts which scored lower. It said it offered staff a wide range of initiatives around health and wellbeing.

The trust said it did not recognise the claim of a “hostile climate” and took its responsibility to promote equality “incredibly seriously”, including supporting and promoting a number of BAME initiatives and activities through the year. This included changes to how disciplinary cases were heard, unconscious bias training and a disciplinary checklist developed with a BAME steering group.