Humiliated Covid whistleblower says boss tried to ‘break’ her

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Dr Rosalind Ranson
By Michael Buchanan & Katie Langton
BBC File on 4

A senior doctor who won a record £3.2m payout says her boss tried to “break” her after she raised concerns about how Covid was being handled.

Rosalind Ranson, medical director on the Isle of Man during the pandemic, experienced months of humiliation, an employment tribunal found.

BBC News has discovered her former boss Kathryn Magson, who was criticised by judges, now works in the NHS.

Miss Magson strongly disputes the tribunal findings.

Dr Ranson has given BBC News her first interview since the hearing.

Moving from London to the Isle of Man in January 2020 for what she called the job of her dreams as medical director was an exciting time for Dr Rosalind Ranson.

But she could not have imagined the situation she would find herself in – after being plunged almost immediately into dealing with the threat of Covid.

As a tribunal would conclude, she was treated in a way that was “demeaning” and “unjustifiable”, including eventually being moved from her office and given a room with a broken chair. It all started with a crucial email she sent in March 2020.

‘Wave of a tsunami’

Dr Ranson and her clinical colleagues had met earlier that month and decided that the borders of the Isle of Man – with a population of 85,000 and one main hospital – needed to be closed.

“I was saying… it’s a wave of a tsunami, we can see this coming,” she now tells the BBC.

“We were going to have insufficient beds, insufficient ventilators. We were going to rapidly overwhelm our health system.”

She prepared a presentation for the Manx government, advising urgent action was needed.

Some days later, on 24 March 2020, when she got home after working late she saw a clip of the Isle of Man’s chief minister answering a journalist’s question on why the borders had not been closed.

“We take advice from our medical experts,” she heard him say, and “we are waiting for that advice”.

“I was thinking, either the chief minister’s misleading the public,” Dr Ranson tells the BBC’s File on 4, “or they didn’t get the presentation.”

She decided to compose an email to her boss, the chief executive of the Isle of Man’s Department of Health.

“At 01:46 that morning, I wrote to Miss Magson. I said, ‘Can you tell me did you pass on all of this, these presentations, this information?’

“And she never responded to that email.”

She believes the decision not to pass on the presentation led to “avoidable deaths” from coronavirus, as action was not taken soon enough – a view echoed by the British Medical Association (BMA).

When Dr Ranson advised borders needed to be shut, there was no Covid on the island. But by the time she sent her email to Miss Magson, 23 cases had been confirmed. The borders were eventually closed on 27 March.

As the employment tribunal heard, it was the start of what judges described as a “period of torrid humiliation” that Dr Ranson experienced.

Whistling in the Wind: The NHS doctors sacked after raising concerns

How NHS whistleblowers are punished for raising concerns about bad practice and bad practitioners in the NHS.

Listen to the story in full on File on 4, at 20:00 GMT on Tuesday 5 December on BBC Radio 4, and on BBC Sounds

The panel was especially scathing of Miss Magson, who joined the island’s Department of Health about the same time as Dr Ranson moved there.

Dr Ranson has told the BBC that Miss Magson – described by judges at the tribunal as “spiteful”, “self-serving”, and showing a “callous lack of care” – “should be held to account for her actions”.

Throughout 2020, as Dr Ranson continued to try to steer the Isle of Man through the pandemic, she says Miss Magson responded in ways the employment tribunal would find to be demeaning, including:

Telling colleagues that Dr Ranson “agreed” she was not fit to perform her role
Refusing to let her use the toilet during an online meeting
Insisting on a non-urgent, almost five-hour, one-to-one meeting late into the night
Denying a request by Dr Ranson for her deputy to chair a meeting so she could attend her orchestral practice

“She was trying to break me, maybe trying to get me to lose my temper,” said Dr Ranson. “It was setting me up to look as if I was failing.”

Miss Magson has denied bullying Dr Ranson.

In a statement to the BBC, Miss Magson said: “I strongly refute the tribunal’s findings and given that I was not in control of, or a party to, the proceedings I have no standing to appeal the decision.”

Miss Magson cannot appeal because, while she gave evidence at the hearing, it was the Isle of Man government and not Miss Magson herself taken to the tribunal.

The Isle of Man’s health department has apologised to Dr Ranson.

Kathryn Magson, pictured, strongly refutes the findings of the tribunal

After the initial outbreak in March 2020, the island eradicated the virus. But Dr Ranson started whistleblowing after being sidelined on major decisions – like the plan to deliver vaccines in December that year, as the tribunal heard.

This is where Miss Magson encountered a problem, as the legal process required Dr Ranson to sign a document agreeing to the plan. Dr Ranson thought things were not properly in place in order for the vaccine to be safely delivered – and so refused.

She says this left Miss Magson “furious”.

Dr Ranson did take over the planning of the vaccine rollout and successfully delivered the programme once she was happy issues had been resolved. But just a few days later, another problem arose.

Someone who had gone to the island’s busiest nightclub tested positive for Covid around Christmas 2020.

This was a huge threat, as residents had been living with very few restrictions, with no need for social distancing or face masks.

Again, Miss Magson told the medical director her services weren’t required.

There was subsequently a further outbreak of coronavirus. In total, 116 people died in the Isle of Man from Covid, from the start of the pandemic up to August 2022.

The British Medical Association, which supported Dr Ranson, tells File on 4 that “there was more or less a witch hunt to discredit her”.

“The issue here is that the consequence to that was that patients died, and unequivocally so,” says chair Prof Philip Banfield.

An email was sent from Kathryn Magson to a colleague after Dr Ranson was moved from her office

The scientist who carried out the genome sequencing of the virus on the island also told the tribunal that the first outbreak of Covid there “would have been significantly shortened, and deaths prevented, had the border been closed when requested”.

There was one final humiliation to endure. In January 2021, Dr Ranson was moved out of her office, and her nameplate removed from the door. She was asked to use a smaller room, with a broken chair and neither a computer nor telephone.

Dr Ranson says senior colleagues “sent communications to many people saying that I was incompetent and that I agreed I was incompetent”.

“But there was no evidence of that,” she adds.

‘No point has it felt like success’

After losing her role in March 2021, Dr Ranson sued the Isle of Man government for unfair dismissal. She was awarded £3.19m, the single largest payout for a whistleblowing case for the British Medical Association, which supported her at the tribunal.

Dr Ranson, who had a successful career in the NHS in England before taking the Isle of Man role, says she does not feel able to work again after her experience.

The Manx government spent almost £900,000 defending itself but the employment tribunal judgement repeatedly criticised Miss Magson, describing her evidence as “unreliable”, saying that she “failed to accept responsibility” for her actions and attempted, on occasion, to “justify the unjustifiable”.

File on 4 understands Miss Magson has been working as an adviser to the chief executive of the South London and Maudsley Trust for several months. She has said her employers are aware of the tribunal’s findings.

While Miss Magson continues her career, Dr Ranson is struggling to overcome what she’s been through.

Reflecting on the experience – and the outcome of what was meant to be a dream job – her voice breaks.

“At the age of 16, I decided I would be a doctor. It’s an enormously rewarding career because you can really affect people’s lives. And to have that taken away…” she says.

“It’s been the most traumatic thing I’ve been through. At no point has it felt like a success.”

Listen to the story in full on File on 4, at 20:00 GMT on Tuesday 5 December on Radio 4, or on BBC Sounds

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