Lawyers drain hospital funds

editorial image

IN the midst of the hospital’s financial crisis, health chiefs have spent a whopping £186,000 on lawyer’s fees – all in a bid to avoid paying a THIRD of that amount to one sacked employee.

And this week they are preparing to blow thousands more by recruiting barristers for yet more legal arguments.

By the time the case ends, the costs are set to reach £250,000, which is ironically the exact amount the hospital’s Little Lives Appeal needs to extend and improve its life-saving neonatal unit.

But while the Little Lives appeal has been a public success, with everyone from schoolchildren to celebrities helping to raise funds, the cash-draining implications of the Margaret Southcote-Want case have been kept behind closed doors.

Ms Southcote-Want was the hospital’s director of nursing until she was sacked from her job four years ago for allegedly appointing a friend for an NHS Trust job.

In 2009 she won her employment tribunal case for unfair dismissal. But the hospital promptly appealed – and won a re-hearing.

In July this year Ms Southcote-Want won the fresh hearing and the hospital was criticised for a “substantial breach of fairness.”

Last month there was a remedies hearing to decide how much compensation should be paid to the former employee, who has funded her own legal costs and also battled cancer over the past year.

In a last ditch bid to reduce the amount, the hospital paid lawyers to argue Ms Southcote-Want had behaved improperly – because she had spoken to the press.

One female lawyer even called the Citizen offices, asking for our “source” for previous stories about the case.

She was told the truth: that employment tribunal cases, like courts, are in the public domain and newspapers are allowed to report on the proceedings.

It is also usual practice to approach each party for comment after a case.

Three weeks ago, when the two parties could not agree compensation, the tribunal stepped in and ordered the sum of £65,265.50 be paid.

But this week the hospital baulked again – and vowed to use more lawyers to challenge that figure.

Another remedies hearing is now being scheduled.

A hospital spokesman said: “Our costs relating to the Ms Southcote-Want case total £185,734.50.”

Ms Southcote-Want declined to comment.