A Canberra Hospital specialist cardiologist has launched legal action against the ACT Government after he was suspended by Canberra Health Services (CHS) during an investigation into his alleged behavioural misconduct.
Documents lodged to the Federal Court late last month showed electrophysiologist Dr Muayad Alasady was suing the ACT Government, CHS CEO David Peffer and the territory’s Public Sector Standards Commissioner (PSSC) Ian McPhee claiming allegations against him were mishandled and thus breached a workplace agreement.
Those allegations resulted in Dr Alasady being suspended with pay in March 2022 as the claims were being further investigated.
In court documents, it was claimed his alleged inappropriate behaviour or misconduct had either “already been dealt with”, that his manager could not be satisfied it was “in the public interest” to suspend Dr Alasady, and that he was not informed of the reasons for his suspension or given “the opportunity to be heard”.
“The effect of the suspension decision is that the applicant [Dr Alasady] has suffered reputational harm and denied the opportunity to practice his profession in the employ of the first respondent [ACT Government],” the documents read.
The documents also claimed either bias or an apprehension of bias against him after Mr Peffer announced to the media in late November 2021 that anyone who was consistently demonstrating “poor behaviour” at the hospital would be shown the door. In the weeks prior, Mr Peffer had written an email to staff which warned CHS had drawn a “line in the sand”.
“Bullying, racism, and sexual harassment are behaviours that will earn you a one-way ticket to your next opportunity, and that won’t be with CHS,” he wrote.
“[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 CHS, start sharpening up your CV.”
Dr Alasady also sought a PSSC investigation into his alleged misconduct and bullying at the hospital to be either stopped completely or paused “until proper particulars” were provided to him, along with damages from the ACT Government.
A 2020 review into CHS’s cardiology services found, among other things, a “culture of blame” existed in many areas of the department, and there was a “well-recognised and long-standing conflict amongst the medical staff” which had a “significant impact” on the staff’s ability to work effectively.
It also identified bullying and “unprofessional” behaviour as an ongoing problem.
This led to Mr Peffer’s decision in November 2021 that a “deep-dive preliminary assessment” be conducted into the department by a private legal team.
A preliminary assessment detailed allegations against Dr Alasady, claiming he had “repeatedly acted in an unreasonable manner” towards cardiology staff, which created an “unsafe environment” for CHS employees and patients.
It detailed several instances where Dr Alasady allegedly behaved inappropriately, including when he told a nurse he “didn’t give a sh*t about the pacemaker” of a person who wasn’t his patient.
It also noted an ongoing conflict between Dr Alasady and another doctor (whom Region has chosen not to name) which “contribute[d] to an unsafe working environment”.
It claimed work meetings to discuss patient treatment options instead became a “slanging match between cardiologists” which was “ridiculous and embarrassing”.
Following this report, the decision was made to suspend Dr Alasady with pay.
Since his suspension, a third investigation was launched to investigate this decision, and it was this process Dr Alasady sought to have stopped.
This investigation, being undertaken by Griffin Legal, consisted of allegations made by a number of doctors and nurses against Dr Alasady. He was notified of these allegations by the legal firm in June 2022.
Allegations detailed in this claim included that Dr Alasady “engaged in work practices that caused stress on the system”, “[his] erratic scheduling of patients was unsafe”, “[he] came in late and finished early”, and “[he] had far more cancellation than any other doctor”.
He also allegedly left an anaesthetised patient on a table for half an hour before he arrived for the procedure.
It was also investigating three separate allegations made in feedback statements by patients.
While Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said she could not comment on the specific case as it was before the courts, she commended Mr Peffer for clearly outlining what behaviours would be accepted within the health service.
“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 said.
“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 [from 2018].”
An interlocutory hearing has been scheduled in the Federal Court on 5 August.