AN under-fire GP surgery has been ordered to pay a total of nearly £150,000 after firing three of its reception staff for whistleblowing.

The Shanti Medical Centre, in Daubhill, which has been placed into special measures by the health watchdog after a damning report revealed serious and potentially fatal failures, was taken to an employment tribunal by three former employees, who were dismissed after contacting the General Medical Council about concerns about Dr Shaista Hanif, one of the partners.

The three — Mrs P Bhatia, Mrs B Booth and Mr N Asani — have been awarded payments.

Allegations made by the three included breaches of patient confidentiality, and others at the practice had also made complaints to the GMC about Dr Hanif refusing to visit elderly patients and her failure to record consultations.

The GMC also received allegations about Dr Hanif refusing to see children as emergencies and claims that she talked 'about patients and employers in reception, and signed vulnerable patients up to a particular pharmacy without their consent'.

Once the GMC made Dr Hanif aware of the complaints it was found that there appeared to be a change in attitude towards the staff.

The GMC closed the case without action against Dr Hanif, stating that the allegations had been made against the "backdrop of an acrimonious partnership dispute between Dr Hanif and Dr (Anant) Prasad" which led to a "difficult working environment for the staff which has undoubtedly served to fuel the many complaints made by the staff against Dr Hanif".

The two had been partners since 2002 but from 2012 their relationship began to deteriorate over disputes about finances and the running of the practice.

The GMC said that it had not identified any "wider employer concerns" and Dr Hanif has no previous fitness-to-practise history.

It further said that it could not gather enough evidence to justify taking action, stressing to one of those who had made allegations "at no point have we said that you or any or your colleagues were lying or that we didn't believe your concerns".

Dr Hanif sent an email to the three alleging they had been guilty of "continual blatant insubordination" and that their attitude "was now affecting patient care".

She wrote to the three inviting them to a disciplinary meeting regarding the "false and malicious allegations made" and stated that she would be seeking civil action against them regarding the "defamatory nature of the false allegations made".

What followed was a row between doctors Dr Hanif and Dr Prasad about the the future of the employees, with Dr Prasad supporting the three.

He sent a letter to the three stating: "Some of you have heard from Dr Hanif that she will stop you from getting paid. Hence, I can assure you will all be paid."

On advice from their union, the three did not attend and the hearings were held in their absence with dismissal letters being issued and contracts being terminated on November 30, 2016. Dr Prasad wrote to the claimants the same day saying that they were "unfairly, unreasonable and maliciously dismissed" and that they should continue to turn up to work as usual.

The ruling stated: "The claimants attended for work on Thursday, 1 December 2016 as usual. After an embarrassing dispute in front of patients they were turned away."

They appealed the dismissal for gross misconduct in hearings held by Dr Prasad and were re-instated — which Dr Hanif disputed and a new hearing with a human resources consultant was arranged and the dismissal upheld.

In an email to the tribunal, Dr Hanif stated that the claimants had tried to make her life as "difficult as possible" as a "consequence of having sided with Dr Prasad" in the dispute between the two and were made because the staff believed they would get rid of Dr Hanif from the practice — something denied by the claimants.

Employment Judge Franey said he noted that the GMC outcome did not provide support for the conclusion that the allegations were false.

In the written judgement, he states: "I was satisfied that the claimants made the complaints to the GMC in good faith because they genuinely believed that there were matters of real concern about how Dr Hanif was operating. In my judgment this was not gross misconduct. The complaints in relation to notice pay therefore succeeded.

"In this case there was no doubt that it was the disclosures to the GMC which caused Dr Hanif to dismiss the claimants. Although she believed that they were not protected disclosures, on the evidence before me she was wrong about that."

The payouts to the long-serving employees are made up of notice pay, basic award compensatory award, ACAS uplift — awarded if it is found that there has been a failure to comply with the requirements of any relevant ACAS Code of Practice on the part of the employer .

Mrs Bhatia was awarded £27,611.55, Mrs Booth was awarded £40,277.20 and Mr Asani, who was the office manager, was awarded £80,513.96.

The judgement is a further blow to the the St Helens Road surgery, which was found to be inadequate by the Care Quality Commission.

The Shanti Medical Centre, in Daubhill, presented a list of more than 28 serious incidents over 12 months to Care Quality Commission inspectors, who say they "revealed serious failures in administrative process or clinical judgement and included one error with the potential for serious or even fatal reaction by two patients".

The GP practice could face enforcement action — such as the cancelling of its registration — if improvements are not made within six months.

The Bolton News was told the practice at Shanti Medical Centre does not wish to make a comment.