Cardiologist sues hospital over suspension for alleged bullying


By Geir O'Rourke

11 Aug 2022

A cardiologist is suing the ACT Government after being stood down from a senior public hospital role amid allegations of misconduct and bullying.

Electrophysiologist Dr Muayad Alasady says he is a victim of personal bias and has been denied procedural fairness by management at Canberra Hospital, after it brought in lawyers to investigate the claims raised by staff in its cardiology department.

Documents filed with the Federal Court show the probe follows a series of damning reviews into the unit, which found its consultants regularly shouted and argued with one another, and sometimes “kicked doors” and “threw objects” when upset.

A report laid down last year also identified a “culture of blame” across the department characterised by “long-standing conflicts amongst several staff”, which had a “significant impact on their ability to work effectively”.

An ongoing dispute between Dr Alasady and another consultant was labelled a specific problem area, with the pair allegedly engaging in regular “slanging matches”.

This was creating an unsafe working environment, leading some staff to conclude it was becoming impossible for the entire team to continue working together, the report found.

In response, Canberra Hospital management informed the cardiologist in March this year that he was being suspended with pay while external lawyers conducted a full investigation into his conduct.

A preliminary report produced as result of this investigation — still ongoing — unearthed yet more allegations about his aggressive manner with other staff, as well as claims around his clinical care.

These included allegedly leaving an anaesthetised patient on a table for half an hour before he arrived for the procedure and occasionally disappearing from the cath lab with patients still waiting to be treated. He was also accused of going AWOL and seeing private patients when was supposed to be working at the hospital.

In a statement to the limbic, Dr Alasady said he “totally rejected” all allegations that he was involved in misconduct while at the hospital (read full statement below).

And in his statement of claim lodged with the court last month, Dr Alasady’s legal team argued each of these reports had already been considered by hospital administrators, who had determined to take no further action against him.

He also hadn’t been given a full opportunity to respond to the earlier allegations, something that was a denial of procedural fairness in breach of his enterprise agreement, his lawyers claimed.

According to the submission, he is seeking his suspension be overturned and the investigation closed immediately, as well as financial damages from Canberra Hospital.

“The effect of the suspension decision is that [Dr Alasady] has suffered reputational harm and denied the opportunity to practice his profession,” it says.

Alternatively, the statement of claim argues for a court order preventing Canberra Hospital management from acting on the investigation with any sanctions, claiming its CEO David Peffer is biased against the cardiologist.

As evidence of this, it pointed to an interview Mr Peffer gave to the Canberra Times in November 2021, where he was quoted as saying people who had “consistently exhibited poor behaviour” would be “exiting the hospital” over the coming year.

In an all-staff email the same month, he reportedly added: “And if you’re reading this, thinking it’s OK to yell at people on the phone because you’re under pressure, or talk down to junior team members who don’t have the experience you have, or make a racist comment about one of our team members here in Canberra Health Service, start sharpening up your CV.”

The limbic reached out to the hospital, which said it “does not comment on matters before the court or comment on individual employees”.

However, it referred to a statement by ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith last week, where she commended Mr Peffer for clearly outlining what behaviours would be accepted within the hospital.

“He really has indicated that people who don’t live the values of the organisation and the people who are creating a poor culture will see the consequence of that,” she told the publication Riotact.

“This has been an ongoing piece of work about improving culture right across our ACT Health services, and we’ve seen the outcome of that in our staff survey. We’ve started to see a turnaround and a continued improvement in culture in those surveys.”

A hearing is scheduled in the Federal Court for 15 August.

Statement released by Dr Alasady, 11 August
Dr Muayad Alasady totally rejects allegations by Canberra Health Services (CHS) that he was involved in misconduct at Canberra Hospital.

Dr Alasady is currently suspended with pay, pending an investigation into misconduct allegations. However, he is seeking orders from the Federal Court of Australia that his suspension be revoked, that the investigation currently being undertaken is declared in breach of the relevant enterprise agreements, and that the CHS be injuncted from continuing with the flawed investigation.

“Key allegations are historical – some date back to 2016 – and have already been dealt with without any findings of misconduct being made, and without the CHS even telling me until March this year. However, the CHS seems determined to keep raising them, and then adding new allegations or variations, regardless of due process. The allegations against me are unclear, unfair, and biased.” Dr Alasady said.

Dr Alasady has devoted more than 10 years of service to Canberra Hospital and is committed to continuing to provide his services to the hospital.

“Ï consider myself to have been a good public servant for Canberra, and a strong advocate for patient care, safety and service in the cardio electrophysiology field,” Dr Alasady said.

“I am determined to protect my reputation and to work with Canberra Health Services to reduce patient waiting times and improve patient outcomes.

Dr Alasady set up the electrophysiology service in Canberra in 2014 and during his time he has brought many new innovative devices and technology to the territory.

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