A surgeon who accidentally set one of his patients on fire during an operation has won his case of unfair dismissal and been awarded £67,000.

Dr O Iwuchukwu worked at City Hospitals Sunderland, part of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, from 2005 until his dismissal in 2015.

In August 2013, he was operating on a patient and applied what he believed to be non-flammable aqueous antiseptic solution.

It was, however, an alcohol-based solution.

The procedure then involved using a diathermy pen, a device that targets electrically induced heat to stop wounds from bleeding.

The combination of the pen and alcohol solution caused the patient to suffer a major burn.

The Trust held an investigation which found that ‘system errors’ were the main cause of the incident, and that human error was also a ‘contributory factor’.

However, the investigation raised several other complaints about Iwuchukwu. A capability panel hearing took place in March 2015 and he was dismissed.

The case went to the Employment Tribunal which ruled in favour of Iwuchukwu.

It found that the previous complaints raised during the burn incident investigation gave the capability panel a preconception of Iwuchukwu.

Judge Garnon said: “The overall effect is that matters that were either unproven or actually disproved but included in the material sent to the panel created the real risk they would form a preconception the claimant was a liar and/or an arrogant man who dominated his subordinates.”

The hearing also found that he had been subjected to racial discrimination during his time at the hospital including being told by a colleague: “We’re not operating out of a hut in the Congo.”

However, the award was reduced by 50% because Owuchukwu had inundated the panel with information that was arguably not needed and potentially prejudicial.

The overall reward of £67,722 was made up of £29,986 for unfair dismissal, and £37,736 for discrimination and victimisation.

Please contact Sorcha Monaghan if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

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