Samaritan Who Saved Caller’s Life Was Sacked

A Citizens Advice Bureau adviser who was dismissed after she broke confidentiality rules to help to save the life of a suicidal caller has won her claim for unfair dismissal.

Terri King, 58, of Southampton, had acted after a distraught client called the service to say she had taken an overdose of pills because she could not deal with her debt problems. Rather than following the time-consuming procedure of contacting her manager, who would then have had to consult a committee for advice, Mrs King immediately alerted the caller’s GP, who was able to get to the woman and treat her.

Despite her lifesaving actions, the divorced mother of three was dismissed from her £13,000-a-year job, on the ground of breaching confidentiality. Peter Wales, her boss at the Lymington branch of the CAB in Hampshire, said that she had made an “irrational and emotional error”, the hearing was told.

Delivering a judgment yesterday, the tribunal chairman, Ian Soulsby, condemned the management’s attitude towards the incident, which tested the extent to which patient confidentiality should be respected in the event of an emergency.

Mr Soulsby said it was ridiculous to say that Mrs King’s actions had been an irrational error. “Viewed objectively, there is no criticism of the claimant to act in this way. A life may have been in imminent danger. From any point of view this was a sensible course of action to take.”

Mrs King was granted damages of a little more than £18,000 by the Southampton Employment Tribunal, which said she had done the right thing in phoning the caller’s doctor.

The hearing was told that Mrs King had worked for five years at the bureau.

No spokesman for CAB could be contacted last night.