Thursday, June 23, 2011

Surgeon who upset PM's photo op sent off on "extended leave"

IT was the day of the Clapham Junction rail crash. Ambulances streaming backward and forward rushing injured to St. George's Hospital in Tooting, medics and nurses and other staff working full out to cope, students and workers queuing to donate blood.

Three trains were involved. Thirty-five people were killed. It could have been more. All because an electrician having to work all the hours he could without a break had been tired and made a mistake wiring signals. And a government looking forward to privatising the railways had not invested in the latest safety systems.

At St.George's, that afternoon, a porter rushing a person on a trolley into an operating theatre found his way obstructed by a bunch of suits and a VIP visitor in their midst. "Do you mind getting out of my way?", exclaimed the exasperated worker, "I'm trying to do my job here!" ( At least that's the gist of it, more or less. South London hospital workers do not swear, not even in extremis).

A surprised Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher might have been unused to being addressed in this way, but she and her entourage stepped aside so the hard-working worker could get on with his job. It may have saved somebody's life.

That was back in December 1988, and though word spread rapidly through the hospital site of what had happened, and been said, I don't suppose it was recorded for posterity. But this is 2011, and when a surgeon at Guy's hospital took exception to Prime Minister Cameron and his sidekick Nick Clegg using his workplace for a photo opportunity, without them or their crew even conforming to dress regulations, it was videoed, went viral on the internet and even made the mainstream media.

This government's plans for the health service might have added to the delight with which the incident was greeted, even if not contributing to the outburst. But it could still have passed away and been forgotten, except there's a sequel.

Our informant, a north London woman who has been having treatment at Guy's, e-mailed friends the other night:.

I don't know if I told you but the orthopaedic surgeon who shouted at Cameron and Clegg last week is MY SURGEON. I went to Guy's to see him today for my follow-up and lo and behold he (Mr Nunn) has been put on sudden "extended leave"

No one knows when he will be back.I was told in a hushed whisper by a staff member (who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals) that Mr Nunn was in deep trouble with the management over being rude to the TWO C's.

Mr Nunn is a brilliant surgeon, reckoned one of the best in the country (if not THE WORLD) and NHS patients are being denied his skills! -- (as for me I feel bereft as well as politically angry).

Now the story has been taken up in today's Independent:

"It was a vintage piece of political theatre when a photocall by David Cameron and Nick Clegg at Guy's Hospital was disrupted last week by a disgruntled surgeon objecting to the poor compliance of the camera crew with hygiene regulations. A clip of the incident went viral on Youtube. But it has ended badly for 57-year-old David Nunn, the orthopaedic surgeon blamed for startling the Prime Minister and his deputy, who has unexpectedly gone on leave, and for his NHS patients who now face longer waits to be seen by Mr Nunn's hard-pressed colleagues.

The hospital yesterday insisted that Mr Nunn's sudden departure was at his own request. But a patient told The Independent a doctor in the ortho-paedic department had used the term "gardening leave" to explain Mr Nunn's absence and claimed he had been "reprimanded" by managers at the trust.

Peter Hodgson, 63, a retired tie manufacturer from Clapham, south London, was seen by Mr Nunn for a hip replacement on the morning of the Prime Minister's visit on 14 June. He returned for a follow-up appointment on Tuesday.
"Mr Nunn was not there and we were told there was a one-and-a-half hour delay. I asked the registrar where he was and he said Mr Nunn was on gardening leave and had been reprimanded for what he did last week. So the very best knee and hip man in London has been suspended, in effect, for telling the people with the Prime Minister to roll up their sleeves and remove their ties because they were not hygienic. And now the rest of the NHS is suffering."

Guy's and St Thomas' Trust, said that Mr Nunn was "currently on leave" and his patients would be managed by colleagues during his absence. It added: "If we feel any patients would benefit from treatment at another NHS Trust we will refer them to the appropriate consultant."

The sensitivity of the issue was underlined by a leaked memo from the trust, circulated to staff, which said Mr Nunn had "requested leave" and it would be "inappropriate to comment further". It added: "At this stage we do not know when Mr Nunn will return to the Trust. Staff should be aware that media may phone without identifying themselves as media. It is imperative staff not answer any questions or provide information or personal opinions. If unsure, always decline to comment and terminate the phone call."

Cameron and Clegg had chosen St Thomas', opposite the House of Commons, for a photocall to launch their changes to plans for the NHS. They were chatting to a patient when Mr Nunn came in. He said: "Excuse me, I'm the senior orthopaedic surgeon in this department. Why is it that we're all told to walk around like this and these people aren't?" He then flashed his arms in the direction of the camera crew. Mr Cameron looked perplexed and aides quickly tried to smooth things over, ushering Mr Nunn out into the corridor where he could be heard shouting, "I still mean it".

The ward sister had exempted journalists and camera crew from observing the hygiene rules about rolling up their sleeves and removing ties because they were not coming into contact with patients. Cameron and Clegg had followed the drill because they were. The trust said at the time that Mr Nunn's view "was not shared by the wider team".

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