A SENIOR hospital doctor’s 37-year career with the NHS ended when he was unfairly sacked while off sick.

Dr Norman Milligan says he was effectively forced to retire as a consultant neurologist at the age of 59 by Poole Hospital bosses.

He took the trust to an employment tribunal, which unanimously ruled he had been the victim of unfair dismissal and criticised two senior managers.

Dr Milligan, who lives in Poole, has reached a financial settlement with the trust, but is not allowed to disclose the terms.

“What’s really upset me is that I have lost my job for being ill at the wrong time.

“There’s no doubt that because of the current economic climate, this kind of problem is going on involving other people,” he said.

“It’s an absolute disgrace. I had 20 years at Poole. There was no problem with my work. You would think that the trust would want to keep its valuable assets. I still had a lot to offer.”

Dr Milligan, now 61, had an exemplary sick record until 2010. After watching a close relative die unexpectedly in another hospital’s intensive care unit in late May, he developed anxiety, insomnia, night terrors, and flashbacks. He tried to return to work, but symptoms persisted and he was signed off.

Initial treatment did not help, but in October 2010 he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He began new therapy and was getting better when he was summoned to a meeting in December and given the choice of retiring or facing a formal hearing to decide if he should be sacked.

He was dismissed in January last year, a week before his review meeting with the occupational health physician, who noted the dismissal seemed “a bit premature”. An appeal was held in March, chaired by the hospital’s medical director Robert Talbot.

The tribunal heard that, before any discussion of Dr Milligan’s expected date of recovery, Mr Talbot offered to let him retire “rather than end like this”.

It ruled: “These words show that Mr Talbot had already made up his mind that if the claimant did not choose the retirement option, then his appeal against dismissal would fail.

“In January 2009, when Mr Talbot had been considering restructuring the neurology department, he had asked the claimant about his retirement plans and had indicated that if he were to retire in March 2011, this would be helpful… to enable the long-term funding of a new paediatrician.”

The tribunal also criticised as “unreliable” the testimony of speciality manager Sarah Knight, who claimed occupational health told her Dr Milligan’s condition had not changed, when medical records sh

The hospital trust's view

A STATEMENT from Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “The trust follows approved human resources procedures in the management of staff.

“Our aim is at all times to be fair and equitable, and to work with the individuals concerned.

“The trust accepts the tribunal’s findings and will review these in detail in order to understand whether any lessons may be learned. The trust has a policy not to discuss or disclose information on any specific case and we are unable to comment further.”