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Archive - Tag: John Watkison

June 12, 2010

Dr Phil’s Private Eye Column Issue 1265, June 8, 2010

A Sick Culture

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley may have promised to protect and support whistleblowers but the NHS culture he has inherited is so bullying and defensive that many staff won’t risk raising concerns. Doctors are the most powerful and trusted NHS employees but a recent survey of 384 doctors by the BMA in Scotland found that 40% did not report concerns about standards of care and staff behaviour, for fear of reprisal.  And a study last month in the British Medical Journal found that the content of the whistle-blowing policies of 118 NHS trusts was ‘overly cautious and negative.’

But it’s the experience of whistle-blowers themselves that puts most people off. John Watkinson, the former chief executive of the Royal Cornwall NHS Trust (RCNT) was sacked in 2008 for raising concerns about the lack of proper public consultation in a decision to amalgamate cancer services. (Eyes passim). He is still on the dole and his house is up for sale. Last month, an industrial tribunal unanimously found that he had been unfairly dismissed, concluding that his removal ‘was a travesty of anything approaching basic fairness’. Lansley has ordered an inquiry but RCNT has now appealed the decision, using more public money to stall further media scrutiny, delay any compensation for Watkinson and bump up his legal costs still further (£200,000 and counting). Now Rose Woodward, highly-respected chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Cancer Patient and Carer group, has resigned citing ‘bullying and intimidation from regional health organisations.’

Lansley has already announced the winding up of Strategic Health Authorities by 2012, but he must ensure that whatever replaces them creates a culture of listening to patients and staff, rather than shouting at them. But his review of the Cornish debacle is unlikely to achieve anything if it remains in-house. Last year David Bowles, the chairman of Lincoln Hospitals NHS Trust, resigned over what he perceived to be bullying by East Midlands SHA. A consequent review commissioned by NHS chief executive David Nicholson found ‘no evidence’ to support the allegations.

David Hands, a professor in Health Policy, retired NHS chief executive and a former governor of Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Trust, also reported to Dame Barbara Hakin, the Chief Executive of East Midlands SHA, a range of very serious concerns about bullying and other improper management practices in the Trust which had been reported to him by many of the Trust’s staff.  He also complained about the failure of the SHA to ensure that consultation about service cuts was undertaken properly within NHS and employment law.  This eventually led to another whitewash ‘review’ by the SHA.

In May 2009 Professor Hands compiled a detailed, evidence-based analysis of the many inadequacies in the way the SHA Review was commissioned and conducted in relation to the issues he had originally identified.  He sent a copy of this paper to the Chairman of the Trust, John Peet, requesting that it be considered by the Board of Governors.  It has still not reached the agenda.  Professor Hands subsequently sent his paper to David Nicholson complaining about apparently improper practice by East Midlands SHA and the Trust.  He again appears to have been stonewalled.

Professor Hands has now written to Andrew Lansley asking for a properly established independent inquiry into the reasons why his legitimate complaints have apparently been systematically suppressed by the Trust, East Midlands SHA and the Department of Health.  He has also suggested that the Lansley should ensure that the Cornwall inquiry is truly independent and its terms of reference be broadened to incorporate an assessment of the ‘appropriateness of the current management culture in the English NHS to enable the highest quality of patient care’.  Don’t hold your breath.


May 28, 2010

Dr Phil’s Private Eye Column Issue 1264, May 26, 2010

More Cornish Pastings….

Following the Eye’s coverage of the unfair dismissal of Cornish hospital boss John Watkinson (Eye last), health secretary Andrew Lansley has ordered NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson to launch an inquiry.  Of particular interest is whether the South West strategic health authority, headed by Sir Ian Carruthers,  pressurised the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT) into sacking Watkinson when he blew the whistle on their avoidance of proper public consultation  before moving a cancer service to Plymouth. Whether Sir David is the man to scrutinise Sir Ian is unclear. Sir Ian, himself a former acting NHS chief executive, has long been Sir David’s close friend and mentor.  And Sir Ian chaired the panel that recommended the knighthood for Sir David this year.

South West SHA has mounted a robust defence of Carruthers. In a letter to Health Policy Insight, regional director of public health Dr Gabriel Scally wrote: ‘ The claim for unfair dismissal was made not against Sir Ian Carruthers or the South West Strategic Health Authority but against RCHT, which made its own decisions acting on independent legal advice.‘ This is at odds with the recollection of John Mills, RCHT Chair at the time of Watkinson’s suspension:
‘The way they (the SHA) went about it was to put pressure on the board and I believe it is not unreasonable to view this pressure as tantamount to bullying. They said if you do not go along with the proposition that John Watkinson is suspended, then we, the non-executives, would be suspended under the powers to that end available to the Secretary of State. We were left in no doubt that it meant the removal of the non-execs and their replacement with a pliant group selected for the purpose by the SHA. By this time John Watkinson was seen as a trouble maker. They (the SHA) decided it was time to tackle him. The SHA had decided it wanted to get John out and I sensed didn’t much care how it was done. With the wisdom of hindsight I do regret not standing up to the pressure put on us by the SHA to do its bidding, and equally I regret not having voted against some of the conclusions, and perhaps therefore having resigned from the board there and then.’

RCHT may appeal against the findings of Watkinson’s tribunal, chaired by Judge John Hollow, but they were so unequivocally damning it’s hard to see how this would be anything more than a further waste of public funds:

“Our unanimous conclusion is that this appeal was a travesty of anything approaching basic fairness … the claimant’s dismissal flew in the face of any concept of fairness”.

“A fair-minded employer would have investigated the issues he (the claimant) raised and taken them into account, giving them careful consideration before reaching a decision. Patently that was not done … The speed and incompetent manner in which the claimant’s dismissal was handled sheds light in our judgment as to the respondent’s reason”.

“We have come to the unanimous conclusion that we can and do draw the inference that the reason for the claimant’s dismissal was due to pressure brought to bear on the RCHT by the SHA and the reason for that pressure was the claimant’s stance over the issue of consultation … the respondents had determined to dismiss the claimant as a result of pressure from the SHA”.

Lansley’s inquiry needs to broaden its remit beyond RCHT and consider other allegations across the region and the wider NHS where staff have been forced out or silenced for raising concerns or challenging the SHA, and where the public have not been properly consulted before changes have been forced through.  The NHS faces some tough spending decisions, and some services may need to be merged to make them safe and sustainable.  Labour’s preferred tactic was central control and bullying, and it filtered down into NHS management.  Lansley needs a more intelligent approach, based on public consultation, sound evidence and allowing anyone to speak up without fear of reprisal. After Watkinson’s ordeal (unemployed at 54 with house on the market), whistle-blowing seems as unattractive as ever.


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