06:45, September 29 280 0 theguardian.com

2020-09-29 06:45:05
Consultant accuses NHS trust of forcing him into modern slavery

A consultant has accused an NHS trust of forcing him into enslavement after making an unfounded and racist allegation of fraud against him that was later dropped.

Dr Shankar Chappiti has lodged a complaint at the Birmingham employment tribunal concerning managers at New Cross hospital, part of the Royal Wolverhampton NHS trust.

The ophthalmologist alleged that his managers behaved in a threatening and intimidatory manner towards him and forced him into enslavement or forced labour while deploying racist stereotypes.

In his complaint, Chappiti alleged that in 2014, he began holding extra clinics on Saturdays to help his department clear their waiting list. In early 2018, he was accused by his senior managers of having committed fraud amounting to £56,000 by not seeing enough patients in each clinic.

He said he was told that level of fraud was a imprisonable offence and was likely to result in him being struck off the medical register.

He also alleged that he was told that this would result in a “terrible future for his family”; his children “would not have their father around and there would be no income to pay the family mortgage”. He was also told, he said, that this would “bring shame to his parents” – a statement he claimed was based on racist stereotypes.

Chappiti said he was told by his managers that he needed to hold his extra clinics without payment for a year to “repay” the fraud. He alleged he was told to “keep [his] mouth shut” and not speak to anyone about the arrangement.

Chappiti claimed the unpaid work amounted to modern slavery under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the European convention on human rights.

In August 2018, Chappiti said he met with another senior manager, whom he told about the arrangement. The unpaid clinics were stopped the following week but a formal investigation into Chappiti was launched, which eventually decided he had no case to answer.

Chappiti is now asking the tribunal for a declaration that he was forced to engage in modern slavery and for financial compensation.

The experience has, said Chappiti, led to him being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Chappiti said the trust, where he has worked for 18 years, discriminated against him because of his race and subjected him to race-related harassment, creating an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment” for him.

He also alleged the trust made unauthorised deductions from his wages and leaked details of the fraud allegation to the press.

“I feel used, let down and ashamed of myself because I didn’t stand up to them,” he said. “It seems illogical that someone as experienced as me could be bullied but I think they targeted me precisely because I’m not an agitator: I just get on with treating my patients.”

Richard Port, Chappiti’s lawyer from the legal firm Boardside, lodged a complaint at the tribunal in May. A date for the hearing has not yet been set.

Port said: “This is an amazing case, featuring allegations of race discrimination, whistleblowing and even modern slavery (in the sense of forced labour) of a British Indian consultant ophthalmologist at a large NHS trust.

“Modern slavery is a scourge, which raises its ugly head in surprising places and unexpected circumstances,” said Port, who has instructed barrister Sheryn Omeri, a specialist in discrimination law at Cloisters chambers in London, to fight the case.

A spokesperson for the Royal Wolverhampton NHS trust said: “We can confirm Dr Chappiti has brought a complaint in the employment tribunal. The trust denies the claims made and is defending the complaint.”