Croydon University Hospital has spent more than £130,000 in a two-year legal battle with a senior doctor it sacked for whistleblowing on patient safety.

But the sum, equivalent to more than five graduate nurses' salaries, could be far outstripped by the hospital's final bill after it doubled its legal team to appeal a tribunal ruling that it unfairly dismissed consultant cardiologist Kevin Beatt.

Dr Beatt led the hospital's cardiac catheter laboratory from 2007 until September 2012, when he was fired by Croydon Health Services NHS Trust after raising concerns about the death of a patient.

Croydon Employment Tribunal ruled in November he had been unfairly sacked amid a calculated attempt to ruin his reputation for raising the alarm about staffing shortages, failing equipment and workplace bullying. 

Following the damning verdict the Croydon instructed QC Jane McNeill, who commands fees of up to £5,000 a day, to work on its appeal alongside a junior lawyer who represented the hospital at the tribunal. 

Her fees will significantly increase the hospital's legal bill for the case, which had already reached at least £132,000 by the end of last year according to figures obtained from the trust.

The true figure is likely to be higher as it does not take into account an internal investigation ahead of the Dr Beatt's sacking.

Dr Beatt said: "The new QC is in additional to all the other things they have expended on the legal fees.

"There is another barrister as well as a number of solicitors, so if anything what they have declared is probably an underestimate.

"And it doesn't take into account a year-long investigation or the staff who could been more usefully employed in any number of ways looking after patients."

He added: "£100,000 could pay for a consultant in casualty."

The dispute between Dr Beatt and hospital directors came to a head in July 2011, when 63-year-old Gerald Storey died during a routine procedure after a senior nurse was suspended without the cardiologist's knowledge.

The trust claimed concerns raised by Dr Beatt following his death were "vexatious and calculated", but the tribunal found no evidence for the allegation.

The trust continues to insist the sacking was fair and expects to learn this month if it has been given leave to appeal the verdict. 

A spokesman said: "Dr Beatt was not dismissed for whistleblowing and we stand by our reasons for dismissal.  We have investigated his claims thoroughly.  

"The Trust is appealing the decision of the Employment Tribunal and we will not be commenting further on this matter until these legal proceedings are complete."

Legal battles

Over the past six years, 20 claimants have taken Croydon Health Services NHS Trust to tribunal over employment disputes.

The trust has successfully defended itself in all but one, in 2012/13, which resulted in the claimant receiving £38,000 in compensation.

However, since 2008 the trust has also agreed seven settlements with employees worth a total of £63,333. 

Such settlements, used to avoid a dispute going to a costly tribunal, often include controversial gagging clauses that prohibit the claimant from discussing their case.

The Croydon Guardian is aware of at least one settlement, formally known as a compromise agreement, which prevented an employee speaking publicly about concerns about Croydon University Hospital.

Department for Health guidelines state that: "NHS Trusts should prohibit the use of 'gagging' clause in contracts of employment and compromise agreements which seek to prevent the disclosure of information in the public interest."

Are you a whistleblower who has signed a compromise agreement or do you know of one? Call us in confidence on 020 8722 6351.