Midwife feared she would not work again after disciplinary battle
PUBLISHED: 09:30 24 December 2018 | UPDATED: 13:40 24 December 2018
A Norwich midwife claimed records were systematically falsified and transcripts edited in a disciplinary procedure which lasted more than two years and she feared would prevent her working again.
Sarah Ardizzone, 59 and of Salisbury Road in Norwich, has been a midwife for 20 years with no concerns.
But on July 6, 2014 when Ms Ardizzone worked a 12-hour shift at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) an alleged incident prompted a drawn out process which left her feeling at the centre of a “witch hunt”.
The hospital has since apologised for the way some aspects were handled, and said lessons had been learned.
On that day a student, who just needed one more delivery to qualify, had been leading a delivery while Ms Ardizzone supervised. And once the baby was born Ms Ardizzone left the room, leaving the student and another midwife to deliver the placenta.
But a complaint was made which said Ms Ardizzone had left the student on her own - something she denied. And just six days later Ms Ardizzone said: “I was formally suspended by the head of midwifery. But she did not make a specific allegation.”
A management investigation meeting was held, where Ms Ardizzone was told the allegations were not yet known. It was not until a month later she was told what she was supposed to have done wrong.
A myriad of letters and emails were sent and meetings held. While in the meantime a separate, independent investigation, carried out by the supervisors of midwives (SoMs), found the incident was a “non-recurring minor practice issue” and Ms Ardizzone was simply asked to write a reflective piece and audit 10 sets of health records.
Finally in November 2014, a disciplinary hearing was held but by that point there were three allegations - two of which would later be overturned - and a key witness, the other midwife in the room, did not turn up, so it was postponed until January.
Ms Ardizzone said: “I believe they did not want her to attend in case she told the truth that she had been bullied and coerced into going further with the complaint.”
She added: “I was told I had shown no remorse and was argumentative. Given that no one was harmed I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be showing remorse for.”
All three allegations were upheld and Ms Ardizzone was given a final written warning in place for two years.
“The sanction was the worst that could be imposed without sacking me,” she said. “They knew full well that if they had dismissed me it would have gone to tribunal and the whole sorry mess would be exposed and I would win.”
Ms Ardizzone appealed, and asked for copies of the transcripts from the prior hearings but never received them and was told there was no verbatim accounts.
When she did receive copies, she said they were heavily edited, and since she had gone through and added parts missing from secret recordings they had taken of the hearings and heard by this newspaper.
The appeal reduced the length of Ms Ardizzone’s sanction to 18 months. But Ms Ardizzone said: “It did not take into account the fact that the disciplinary had upheld these allegations without any evidence. I now found myself in a position where I would be watching my back and in fear of dismissal for the slightest thing or to leave. I had little prospect of gaining employment elsewhere with a sanction of gross misconduct hanging over my head.”
Ms Ardizzone finally returned to work on October 5, 2015 - 15 months after she was first suspended. An independent investigation was launched into the handling of the notes taken, the conduct towards Ms Ardizzone and the basis on which the conclusion of gross misconduct was made.
But it was not until December 23 that the investigation began, by this point Ms Ardizzone had handed in her notice, and it was June - nearly a full two years later - until the report was completed.
After this, Ms Ardizzone said Jeremy Over, director of workforce at the hospital, offered a “full and frank apology” but she felt the issues of management behaviour and falsifying of transcripts had not been dealt with.
She said: “As a normal person there’s no redress.”
A spokesman for the NNUH said: “We’d like to repeat our apologies to Sarah, originally conveyed in 2016, for the way aspects of her disciplinary proceedings were handled and we’d like to reassure her that lessons have been learnt.
“We take any grievance seriously and as such we commissioned an external independent reviewer to carry out a thorough investigation into her case, the recommendations of which were accepted.
“Whilst cases of misconduct at work are rare, working with our trade union colleagues we introduced a new process in 2018 supported by staff briefings and manager training. Other work since 2016 has improved the work culture and support for staff who raise concerns.
“We’d like to thank Sarah for her continued work for the trust and we’d be happy to talk with her further if she has any questions or concerns.”