Judge adjourns bid to halt Tallaght hospital investigation

John O’Connell claims intervention by Minister resulted in inquiry re-opening

 

An application by a former acting chief executive of Tallaght Hospital for injunctions restraining the reopening of an investigation into complaints against him has been adjourned to January.

John O’Connell claims an intervention by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has lead to the reopening of an investigation into “historic” complaints made against him by emergency medicine consultant Dr Jean O’Sullivan, including failing to support advocacy on behalf of patients.

At the High Court earlier this week, his lawyers secured leave from Mr Justice Paul Gilligan to serve short notice of his application for injunctions against the hospital, including to restrain reopening of an investigation into the complaints.

He claims Dr O’Sullivan wrote to the Minister in late 2014 claiming victimisation because she was a “whistleblower”.

The Minister’s intervention, and “apparent elevation” of Dr O’Sullivan’s complaints, have moved the hospital to investigate complaints dating from 2011, “rather than making the balanced assessment” he, as a senior employee, would have expected, he claims.

When the matter returned to court on Thursday, Mark Connaughton SC, with Mairead McKenna BL, for Mr O’Connell asked Mr Justice Gilligan to fix January 14th to hear the application for an injunction preventing the investigation proceeding pending the final outcome of the legal dispute.

Putting the matter back to January was the best practical way to advance the case and would allow the parties exchange sworn statements, he said.

Michael Howard SC, for the hospital, consented to the adjournment. While not in a position to give an undertaking on behalf of the hospital not to proceed with the proposed re-opening of the investigation, it had been agreed the hospital would give prior notice to Mr O’Connell and his lawyers should it decide to take any further steps in the investigation process, Mr Howard said.

The hospital had to take into account a third party had made a complaint against Mr O’Connell under the dignity at work policy, counsel added.

The court was told by Mr Connaughton on Tuesday the case concerned a proposal to recommence an investigation Mr O’Connell thought was “dead and buried for over two years”.  Mr O’Connell’s concern was not about what was alleged, which he denies, but that the hospital intends to proceed contrary to an express agreement and his rights to fair procedures, counsel said.

The matter went back to 2011 when complaints - by three emergency department (ED) consultants over an eight month period between 2011 and 2012 - were first generated, counsel said.The complaints included allegations of bullying and intimidation.

Mr O’Connell said in a sworn statement he was very upset by the complaints, all of which he responded to and denied and which the hospital failed to progress in any real way.

While Mr O’Connell’s view was two complainants had fallen away, he had not got complete satisfaction whether the hospital shared that view, Mr Connaughton said. While he thought he had resolved issues with the hospital, he now learned in 2015 it was proposed to recommence this, “unfortunately by ministerial intervention”.

Mr O’Connell had invoked a grievance procedure but an adjudication of that had not addressed his grievance, counsel added. As a result, he felt compelled to go to court.

Mr O’Connell, now executive director of human resources at the hospital, was acting chief executive between 2010 and 2011.