14.04.2024

NHS doctor, gets suspended for ‘racist banter’ after calling Mexican colleague a ‘donkey sh*****’

An NHS doctor has been suspended after calling a Mexican colleague a ‘donkey sh*****’. Dr Tom Burton, a consultant emergency physician at Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Trust, was scolded by a tribunal for his ‘racist banter’.

The 60-year-old medic, who began practicing in the 1990s, admitted making the comment to the doctor during a ‘bawdy team conversation’ in November 2020.

But Dr Burton claimed it was only made in retaliation after the same colleague, of Mexican heritage, ‘looked me in the eye and said something about me having a sexual interest in sheep’.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service heard from a witness that his comment did not come ‘out of the blue’ but had ‘overstepped the mark’.

Dr Tom Burton, a consultant emergency physician at Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Trust, was scolded by a tribunal for his ‘racist banter’. Pictured, the Chesterfield Royal Hospital

Dr Tom Burton, a consultant emergency physician at Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Trust, was scolded by a tribunal for his 'racist banter'. Pictured, the Chesterfield Royal Hospital

Dr Burton – noted as having an ‘unblemished disciplinary record and career’ – also confessed to writing the same phrase on a bottle that he believed belonged to the unidentified member of staff.

He was suspended for four months because of the ‘gravity of his misconduct’.

‘Dr Burton’s conduct fell so far short of the standards of conduct reasonably to be expected of a doctor as to amount to serious misconduct,’ the panel ruled.

But it noted Dr Burton is a ‘good doctor who is held in high regard by colleagues and patients’.

Despite the suspension, the tribunal acknowledged it was a ‘clumsy joke’ and that a ‘culture of wholly inappropriate banter’ took place where they worked.

But it said that Dr Burton didn’t have a ‘close or friendly working relationship’ with his peer, despite having worked together for a ‘number of years’.

Dr Burton apologised for his mistakes and attended remediation courses at his own expense.

He had also been the subject of an internal investigation and lost his job.

The colleague, referred to only as Dr A, accused Dr Burton of making comments that amounted to unlawful racial harassment on 24 November 2020.

In front of Dr A, a locum consultant in the hospital’s emergency department, and other members of staff, Dr Burton was accused of saying words along the line of ‘I hear Mexicans sh** donkeys’.

Dr A said the comment seemed to come out of ‘nowhere’ and caught them ‘off guard’ as it seemed ‘pretty discriminatory to make, particularly in the presence of all my colleagues’.

Dr A admitted to replying in anger that ‘I heard the English shag sheep’, to which Dr Burton said that ‘it wasn’t the English, but the Welsh’.

But in Dr Burton’s account, given as part of an internal probe by the Trust, he said his comment was made during a ‘rude and bawdy team conversation’ about ‘sexual matters’ involving five to 10 doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants.

He said Dr A ‘said something about me having a sexual interest in sheep’, to which Dr Burton claimed to have replied, ‘I think donkey’s are more to your taste’.

The following day, Dr A claimed Dr Burton passed him in the corridor and told him that ‘I’ve put a label on your bottle, donkey sh*****’.

On top this exchange, Dr A accused Dr Burton of writing ‘donkey sh*****’ on a label and sticking it to a black water bottle that resembled a sex toy, which he believed belonged to Dr A.

Dr Burton admitted to doing so but this was to ‘continue the joke from the day before’ and that he ‘did not intend any racial element’. It was at this point that Dr A filed a formal complaint with the Trust, as ‘enough was enough’.

After finding out about the complaint made against him, Dr Burton was accused of ‘unlawful victimisation’ in January and February 2021.

This was after he told one colleague that Dr A was in the UK when he had told the hospital that he had to go abroad on compassionate leave. Dr Burton was also accused of questioning whether Dr A was fit to practice medicine.

Additionally, Dr Burton told colleagues that he was concerned about Dr A working ‘back to back’ shifts and allegedly requested information about their working patterns.

The MPTS concluded it was ‘quite clear’ Dr Burton ‘made some reference to sh****** donkeys in the presence of Dr A’ as he then went to write it on their water bottle as a continuation of the ‘joke’.

The ruling stated that it was ‘more likely than not’ that Dr A’s account was accurate, as it was supported by another medic.

The judgment stated that, while the pair of medics had never fallen out, they both avoided each other and Dr A, along with other colleagues, made reference to Dr Burton’s ‘lack of social awareness and his poor attempt to make jokes he thought were funny’.

While the comment was clearly ‘inappropriate, unprofessional and offensive’ — as the banter was not ‘mutual’ — it did not create an ‘intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’, the ruling stated.

But Dr Burton’s act of writing ‘donkey sh*****’ on the water bottle did create such an environment, the tribunal found.

It also concluded that Dr Burton did raise questions about Dr A’s whereabouts, tried to find out about Dr A’s working patterns and raised Dr A’s fitness to practice record to colleagues.

By doing so, Dr Burton ‘called into question the integrity and honesty of a person who had made a complaint against him’, which constituted unlawful victimisation, the tribunal ruled.

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