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Cassaglia reinstated as GHA Medical Director

Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

Dr Daniel Cassaglia has been reinstated as Medical Director with effect from March 7, the GHA said on Tuesday.

The decision will see Dr Cassaglia return to a post that he stepped down from in October 2019 pending the outcome of a disciplinary process following allegations he had bullied a hospital biochemist in 2017, and of parallel legal challenges following an Employment Tribunal decision.

“This follows the outcome of a full investigation, a number of legal proceedings, the independent disciplinary board by the GHA and the fact that there are no further pending legal actions on the matter,” the GHA said.

Dr Cassaglia will now form part of the executive team supporting the new Director General, Professor Patrick Geoghegan, the latter being a post created as part of the ‘Reset, Restart and Recover’ program to reform the GHA.

He will also continue to work as a consultant paediatrician, as he also did previously.

Dr Krish Rawal, who has been acting Medical Director since October 2019 including through the challenging Covid-19 period, will resume his post as Deputy Medical Director.

“I would like to welcome Dr Cassaglia back to his substantive role and sincerely thank Dr Krishna Rawal for his work as acting Medical Director through the unprecedented and extraordinary time of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Prof Geoghegan said.

“Dr Rawal’s role will revert to his substantive post as Deputy Medical Director and he will continue his clinical work as a General Practitioner.”

“I am sure we will all be able to work together for the benefit of the people of Gibraltar, in particular the patients of the GHA.”

“Looking forward to the future I plan to work in close partnership with the GHA senior management team and our staff as we implement our plans to ‘Reset, Restart and Recover.’”

The decision to reinstate Dr Cassaglia could add further pressure to industrial relations at the GHA that have already been strained in recent months.

Last week, Unite the Union warned that it would consider escalating the issue with its members if Dr Cassaglia returned to the role of Medical Director, a move the union said would undermine initial improvements experienced recently in terms of industrial relations.

This is the latest development in a long-running controversy that has its roots in an exchange in 2017 between a hospital biochemist and Dr Cassaglia, who believed access was being blocked to information he was entitled to see during the course of his job as Medical Director of the GHA.

An employment tribunal found that Dr Cassaglia pushed the biochemist on the shoulders, raised his voice and used inappropriate language during the disagreement over access to patient data.

Dr Cassaglia disputed those facts but the tribunal ruled that, while this had been an isolated incident, it was nonetheless serious enough to warrant a finding against the GHA under Gibraltar’s anti-bullying legislation.

Dr Cassaglia successfully appealed that decision when the Supreme Court found that the incident could not be classed as bullying in law and overturned the Employment Tribunal’s ruling against the GHA.

Appeals from the Employment Tribunal to the Supreme Court are allowed only on points of law, so Dr Cassaglia was unable to challenge the facts on which the tribunal based its decision.

But when the court’s decision was itself appealed by the biochemist with the support of Unite the Union, the Court of Appeal upheld the Supreme Court’s ruling and made clear that the conduct attributed to Dr Cassaglia did not amount to bullying in law.

The Court of Appeal was also critical of Gibraltar’s anti-bullying law, which it said was unclear and “puzzling” on key points including what constituted bullying.

The Gibraltar Government has since published draft proposals to amend the law and address the issues raised by the judges.

Separately to the court process, the GHA last year concluded its internal disciplinary process into the case, dismissing all charges of misconduct against Dr Cassaglia after hearing evidence from all parties involved.

The disciplinary panel found that while the biochemist’s evidence was “neither untruthful or evasive,” evidence from other supporting witnesses was “unreliable” and suggested collusion or active coordination – not instigated by the claimant - that could not be properly explained, the GHA said at the time.

The panel found that “crucial documents” had not been disclosed to the Employment Tribunal, adding the complainant had accepted that Dr Cassaglia had not been aggressive to him.

It found too that Dr Cassaglia had been “clear, categorical and consistent throughout” in denying he had pushed the biochemist or used offensive language.

For the GHA, the disciplinary board’s decision brought the matter to a close.