East Lothian GP sacked while signed off work to care for dying father

An East Lothian medical practice has apologised to a former employee after she was sacked while signed off work to care for her dying father.

Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 6:19 pm
Dr Alison Sneddon joined the practice in 2017.
Dr Alison Sneddon joined the practice in 2017.

Dr Alison Sneddon has been given a letter of apology and £16,000 compensation from Tranent Medical Practice in a private agreement following an Employment Tribunal hearing in January.

Dr Sneddon joined the practice as a GP two days a week in October 2017.

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In April 2019 her father was diagnosed with terminal and inoperable cancer.

As Dr Sneddon was the only member of the family who could care for him, her father moved into her home in North Berwick.

Despite support for local GPs, nurses and Marie Curie, the toll of caring for her father and the knowledge of his terminal illness left Dr Sneddon feeling unable to work, and she was signed off as medically unfit for work by her own GP in April 2019.

She offered to take unpaid compassionate leave in May to reduce costs for the practice, but the offer was declined.

Partners at the practice then asked if they could arrange a meeting to support her returning to work, but she said no.

Then on June 27, three days before her father died on July 1, Dr Sneddon was sacked by a letter giving her three months notice.

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In it she was told that the reason for her dismissal was “your level of absence and the inability of the practice to support your long-term absence due to the significant impact this is having”.

The practice had written to her two days beforehand asking her to come to a meeting the next day about ending her employment, but Dr Sneddon refused to attend. Her union representative asked on her behalf for the meeting to be postponed, but the practice refused.

While Dr Sneddon had been absent, pressure had been mounting on the medical centre because of staff shortages. Some but not all of Dr Sneddon’s work in April and May was covered by locum doctors.

As Dr Sneddon had been at the medical centre for less than two years she was not able to claim unfair dismissal, but instead made claims of discrimination and breach of contract to the Employment Tribunal in Edinburgh.

After a hearing in January, the practice responded to Dr Sneddon’s claims including a complaint about her work during the period between October 2018 and April 2019. Partners said this had been a factor in deciding to dismiss her.

These issues had not been raised with Dr Sneddon at the time, or at any time during the previous grievance procedure.

The practice has now made a private agreement with Dr Sneddon, including a statement of facts. She has been sent an apology letter and an agreement to pay £16,000 in compensation, which she has pledged to donate to Marie Curie after the care which was given to her father in his illness.

Neither Dr Sneddon nor representatives of Tranent Medical Practice were able to comment on the matter.

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