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Witham v Hastings & Rother NHS Trust, High Court

3 December 2001
The issues

“Stress” – Psychiatric illness following return to work.

The facts

The Claimant was a Senior Nurse. She had been in charge of a ward at Bexhill hospital. She had post-natal depression. She had eight months sick leave. She returned to work in March 1996. Her employers told her that her return would be “gradual” and she would have “a lot of support”. At the time she returned a major re-organisation of wards was taking place. The Claimant was left to supervise the movement of a number of patients to a new 50-bed ward at the hospital. She was also left to take charge of the new and larger ward on her own with no managerial or senior nursing support. She worked long hours until December 1996 when she suffered a further bout of depression and was absent from work for two months. She returned but became more ill still. In mid-1997 she suffered a major breakdown of her health and was absent from work until she was dismissed in May 1998.

The decision

1. The Claimant had been promised a gentle return but had been given no such thing.

2. Defendants had not made any reasonable inquiries about her continuing state of health although they knew of her previous depression and ability to stress. It ought reasonably foreseen that a lack of proper care might cause the Claimant further ill health.

3. Because of pre-existing depression the Claimant would probably be absent from work from time to time for about one third of her working life after 1998 and would not have received further promotion. She was 41. An appropriate multiplier would be 7.5 reduced from 9 or 10.

General damages of £17,500 for a moderately severe psychiatric illness were awarded.

The Claimant who was a Grade G nurse but was now working at Grade D was entitled to an additional award of £7,500 for loss of status.

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