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NHS midwife who developed narcolepsy as a result of swine flu vaccine to claim disability discrimination and unfair dismissal at upcoming employment tribunal

A midwife suffering from narcolepsy who claims she was unfairly dismissed from her role at Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust will also allege disability discrimination at an employment tribunal to be heard next week.

The midwife was one of at least 85 people in the UK who developed narcolepsy, a rare, long-term brain disorder that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times, after receiving the swine flu vaccine during the global pandemic in 2009. She alleges that despite being given the vaccine because of her role as a frontline NHS employee, her employer made few allowances for her subsequent disability, refusing to make appropriate reasonable adjustments for her and subjecting her to stress and harassment that exacerbated her condition.

The tribunal will open on Monday 23 November and is listed for five days. The case is being brought by 38 year-old Rachael Curran, an experienced midwife from Liverpool in Merseyside.

Ms Curran agreed to be vaccinated against swine flu out of concern for her vulnerable patients. This followed strong recommendations from her NHS employer who, as part of a drive to encourage uptake of the vaccination, offered entry to a prize draw to win an iPad. She had an immediate reaction to the vaccine. By August 2010 she was regularly collapsing and being admitted to hospital. Doctors began the long process that finally led to her diagnosis of narcolepsy which she now manages with medication.

As she became increasingly unwell, Ms Curran was forced to take long term sick leave during which time she underwent numerous hospital appointments and treatments. During this time she was subjected to the terms of her employer’s Absence Management Policy which, she alleges, took no account of her disability. She was frequently asked when she would be returning to work, was pressured to attend disciplinary meetings whilst seriously unwell and made several unsuccessful attempts to return to work.

Rhian Radia, an employment partner at Hodge Jones & Allen is representing Ms Curran and says: “Rachael Curran believes that her disability was not taken seriously by management at the Countess of Chester Hospital and that she was made to feel like an inconvenience because of her illness. Ms Curran was a dedicated midwife who loved her job. She was committed to continuing to work at the hospital yet, despite recommendations from occupational health specialists, it is alleged that alternative midwifery positions or changes to her working patterns were not properly considered. Rachael will claim that the requirements to make reasonable adjustments under disability discrimination legislation was not complied with.”

The hospital has consistently refused to accept any involvement in causing Ms Curran’s disability and claims that she is not entitled to either the Temporary Injury Allowance or Permanent Injury Allowance usually given to NHS employees who have been injured during the course of their work.

Hodge Jones & Allen is also representing Ms Curran and 84 other claimants in legal actions against GSK and under the Department for Work and Pensions vaccine compensation scheme.


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Notes for Editors

  • The hearing is being held at the Liverpool Employment Tribunal, 35 Vernon Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L2 2BX
  • The doors to the tribunal usually open at 9am and the hearing will start at 10am.
  • Narcolepsy is a very rare and incurable autoimmune sleep disorder caused by the destruction of the part of the brain that produces hypocretin, a peptide that regulates sleep. The absence of hypocretin signalling can lead to a range of serious symptoms including excessive daytime sleepiness, fragmented sleep, cataplexy (sudden collapses), frightening hallucinations, “micro-sleeps” during everyday activities, weight gain and sleep paralysis.
  • The 2009-10 pandemic vaccine has been found to have caused an epidemic of narcolepsy in the UK and in other European countries in which it was used. Over 1,000 people across Europe are thought to be affected, of which about 85 have so far been identified in the UK. Compensation for narcolepsy caused by Pandemrix has been paid out in a number of European countries including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, France and Denmark.
  • Hodge Jones and Allen was founded in 1977 in Camden and has over 220 staff based in Euston NW1. The firm’s team of specialists include – Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Diseases, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud and Social Housing.