Private Eye

Tour Dates




Staying Alive




Press Info

Interview Feature

Press Quotes

Tour Reviews



Archive - Tag: Watkinson

August 22, 2010

Dr Phil’s Private Eye Column Issue 1269 20.8.10
Filed under: Private Eye — Tags: , , — Dr. Phil @ 1:01 pm

Rewarding Whistleblowers

Well done Channel 4 News and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for their exposure of the widespread use of taxpayers’ money to silence NHS whistleblowers (Ch 4 news, 2.8.10). Many employment contracts still have gagging clauses and most doctors who invoke the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) to raise concerns about unsafe or fraudulent practice reach a settlement with their employer to prevent concerns being made public. Superficially, this smells of whistleblowers bottling it and taking the money, but when you look at the experience of those who refuse to be silenced, there’s no great incentive to do the right thing.

The NHS’s most famous whistleblower, Dr (now Professor) Stephen Bolsin, was praised in Parliament for raising concerns about standards of child heart surgery in Bristol nearly 20 years ago, and his actions were fully vindicated by a Public Inquiry. Yet he became unemployable in the NHS and relocated to Australia, where he continued his excellent work in monitoring clinical outcomes. Had Bolsin remained in the NHS, it is inconceivable that small units would have been allowed to continue operating and the Oxford heart scandal would have been avoided (Eye last).

If Andrew Lansley is genuine in his desire to support whistleblowers, he should consider formal recognition of Bolsin’s bravery1. The Mid Staffs inquiry will doubtless show that staff were either too afraid to blow the whistle, or too easily silenced, despite the many avoidable deaths occurring around them. NHS whistleblowers are vulnerable and isolated, and have few role models. The public recognition of Bolsin’s legacy would go some way to making it acceptable to speak up.
For whistleblowers who want to go the distance, the best chance of being heard is to go to court. In the UK, any payouts tend to be swallowed up by legal expenses and loss of earnings. But in the US, whistleblowers are rewarded handsomely if they help the government bring a successful case. In May, the New England Journal of Medicine followed up 26 successful whistleblowers from the pharmaceutical industry 2. On average each received $3 million for speaking up, with the range going from $100,000 to $42 million. Last September, Pfizer paid $2.3 billion to settle allegations that they illegally marketed a painkiller, Bextra, which has now been withdrawn. A proportion of the settlement was divided between the 6 whistleblowers.

Whistleblowers are rarely motivated by money, and nearly all try to ‘go through the correct channels’ first before going public. And even a large payout is scant consolation for the emotional exhaustion and stress of speaking out. In May, an employment tribunal found that John Watkinson, a former chief executive of the Royal Cornwall NHS Trust, was sacked for blowing the whistle on the failure of the Trust and Strategic Health Authority to consult the public adequately before moving cancer services. An independent review has now agreed that public consultation was inadequate, but the Trust is appealing against the tribunal findings. They accept that Watkinson was unfairly dismissed but challenge that he was a whistleblower, wary off the unlimited damages that are supposed to be awarded to sacked whistleblowers under PIDA. In the meantime, Watkinson remains unemployed – and like Bolsin, probably unemployable in the NHS.

As well as publically recognizing whistleblowers, Lansley needs to place a statutory duty on all NHS employers to report all serious concerns about patient safety or fraud to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Monitor for investigation and publication. Gagging clauses, and attempts to buy the silence of public sector workers raising genuine concerns in the public interest, must be outlawed. Whether the CQC and Monitor have the independence, expertise and resources to deal with all the NHS’s dirty secrets remains to be seen, but the practice of damage limitation, either by paying off staff or ordering secret ‘independent’ inquiries that never see the light of day, must end.

1 2

June 21, 2010

Letter to Andrew Lansley

Andrew Lansley has said that  “all service changes he NHS must be led by clinicians and patients and not driven from the top down”. This letter to him from patient advocate Daphne Havercroft should test whether he means it.

 20th June 2010

 Dear Mr Lansley,

 NHS South West – Fitness to be a Pilot Site for recommendations of the Carter Review of Pathology and concerns about transparency of the Bristol Histopathology Inquiry

Patient Advocates in the South West welcome your commitment for NHS service changes to be led by clinicians and patients.

 “all service changes must be led by clinicians and patients and not driven from the top down”

In the Bristol area, we are surprised and disappointed to find ourselves being subjected to a review of Pathology Services imposed from the top down that has been instigated by NHS South West and NHS Bristol without proper and full involvement of clinical users of the service and patients.

 NHS Bristol has produced a review initiation document that states “There is a requirement on Strategic Health Authorities (SHA’s) (sic) to ensure that all PCT’s (sic) develop plans for establishing the consolidation of services into managed pathology networks in the annual Operating Framework for the NHS in England in 2009/10.  By 2011/12 the review recommends that consolidated networks should be fully established and performing to the revised quality standards. The South West Strategic Health Authority is to be one of the two national pilot sites to deliver the Carter review recommendations and savings”

 Local patient advocates fully support a review of local Pathology Services to modernise, improve quality and safety and deliver cost efficiencies. However the top down imposition of the Carter Review recommendations looks depressingly like a variant of the same top down dogma that people in the South West have endured, without appropriate consultation, by the way in which Cancer Improving Outcomes (IOG) reconfigurations have been implemented.

 There is an urgent public debate to be had about the fitness of NHS South West to be one of the two national pilot sites to deliver the Carter review recommendations in the light of the following:

 1. Your ordering of an Inquiry into the part played by NHS South West in the dismissal of John Watkinson by the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, including consideration as to whether the SHA “acted appropriately, proportionately, in keeping with its role and within its statutory responsibilities”.

 2. Public calls for the suspension of SHA Chief Executive Sir Ian Carruthers, and other implicated South West managers while the Inquiry proceeds.

3. The resignation of a highly respected and experienced patient advocate from a Cancer Group in Cornwall, alleging “bullying and intimidation” by the NHS in the South West.

 4. The poor quality of the IOG driven Bristol/Bath Gynaecological Cancer Services Review, where local patient advocate opinion is that clinicians were intimidated and bullied into silence, and similar attempts were made to do the same to patients. We believe local NHS Organisations, including NHS Bristol, tried to avoid their statutory responsibilities to consult and this was because the SHA clamped down on proper consultation, as it did for Upper GI service reconfiguration in Devon and Cornwall. Fabian Richter, Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Bath at the 2010 Election, saw for himself the injustices that took place with the Gynaecological Review, including  NHS Bath and North East Somerset repeatedly trying to mislead patients and clinicians into believing that implementation of IOG is a legal requirement, when it clearly isn’t, being guidance. We are very grateful to Fabian for publicly articulating the concerns of local people and clinicians.

 5. The fact that NHS South West has officially known about the UH Bristol (University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust) Histopathology misdiagnosis allegations (now the subject of a UH Bristol commissioned inquiry) since at least August 2008, and has not shown the public that it acted promptly and responsibly to protect those who raised the concerns, protect patients and ensure the allegations were properly investigated. According to a Freedom of Information Response I received from NHS Bristol on 19th June, it is alleged that the SHA knew about the serious allegations before July 2008, a year before they were reported by Private Eye Magazine.

 6. The question as to whether NHS Bristol and other local NHS organisations within the NHS in the South West, acted appropriately and responsibly when they first became aware of the Pathology concerns. In NHS Bristol’s case, this was in October 2007 and may even have been before.

 7. The extremely disappointing start to the Bristol Pathology Review where it appears that the NHS has tried to appoint a lay representative to its Project Board behind the backs of local people and without giving them any say in patient and public involvement in the Review. NHS Bristol appears to have used this extraordinary incorrect and patronising statement as a reason to exclude patient representation from the Pathology Review:

 “We must recognise that patients have little direct contact with pathology services and therefore cannot contribute their own experiences of using the services”.

 It seems that NHS Bristol will only allow patient views to be represented through local LINks Local Involvement Networks) organisations. Although I am a LINks member, I believe this is an inadequate substitute for the direct involvement of patient advocates who have actually used pathology services and have a good, basic understanding of the science of pathology and how it is central to diagnosis, treatment decisions and research.

 At the root of the Bristol Histopathology Inquiry are these and similar allegations “misdiagnosis of patients with thoracic, gynaecological and breast disease whose histopathology specimens have been reported by pathologists at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. Some of these have had fatal outcomes, and other patients have been treated for malignant disease (e.g. mastectomy and node clearance; intrapleural chemotherapy) when subsequent review showed benign disease.”

 In two of the cases the BRI admitted liability and settled with the families. Yet astonishingly, NHS Bristol appears to claim that patients have no useful contribution to make to the pathology review and will only allow tokenistic representation via LINks organisations. In our opinion, based on all the evidence of lack of consultation in the South West mentioned previously, Sir Ian Carruthers is behind this exclusion of patient advocates from direct involvement and decision making in the Pathology Review. The South West has highly experienced, well educated patient advocates and we suspect that Sir Ian fears their ability to best represent patient interests by questioning and challenging the NHS and demanding good evidence and quality assurance to support decision making.

 Following the Bristol Histopathology Inquiry, managed by Verita since December 2009, and widely  perceived as heading for a whitewash because of secrecy and lack of confidence in the way it is being conducted, Bristol’s Pathology Services urgently need to be reviewed.  It is looking increasingly unlikely that patients and the public can entrust such important work to local NHS organisations while they display obvious resistance to allowing the Pathology Review to be led by patients and clinicians, in defiance of Government expectations, and when the fitness of NHS South West, under Sir Ian Carruthers, to be a pilot region for the top down Carter Review, is highly suspect.

 South West patient advocates support the recommendations of the Carter Review in principle. However, we fear that in Sir Ian Carruthers’ South West, they will be imposed on us and clinicians without full, open and transparent consultation that meets statutory requirements. We believe that     this may lead to less safe and lower quality Pathology services in the South West.

 We ask you to consider and advise whether, with its track record of suppressing patient and clinician leadership of NHS service change, and with a Chief Executive widely regarded as fostering a bullying and intimidatory culture, NHS South West is an appropriate and safe site to be a pilot for the Carter Review recommendations.

 We would also appreciate knowing the coalition Government’s position on the importance and validity of the Carter Review recommendations in respect of local pathology service reconfigurations. As it is a top down recommendation it is unclear to the public whether it can be easily reconciled with the requirement for all service changes to be led by clinicians and patients, not imposed from above. 

 As you have asked Verita to conduct the Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the John Watkinson Industrial Tribunal, we suggest that you may also wish to inquire into public concerns I mentioned earlier about the Bristol Histopathology Inquiry, which is managed by Verita. One of the reasons for the concerns (there are others) is that the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry do not include investigation into role of NHS South West, NHS Bristol (and other local Primary Care Trusts) and the Avon, Somerset and Wiltshire Cancer Services (ASWCS) Network in respect of their response to the allegations. A lesson learned from the Bristol Royal Infirmary Heart Inquiry is that it is important to know from the organisations and individuals responsible for patient safety and quality of care the answer to these questions:-  what did you know? when did you know about it? what did you do about it? It appears that NHS South West, NHS Bristol and ASWCS will be protected from being accountable to the public to answer these questions. This is not right.

 We also request your intervention to protect our rights and those of clinical users of pathology services to be fully involved and consulted by insisting that NHS South West and the organisations that report to it ensure that any Bristol area Pathology Review is led by local clinicians and local patients, without intimidation and bullying by NHS South West and other local NHS organisations.

  Yours sincerely,

 Mrs Daphne Havercroft

 Consumer Member, National Cancer Research Institute, Breast Clinical Studies Group

Trustee, Independent Cancer Patients’ Voice

Member, South Gloucestershire LINks

Member, Breakthrough Breast Cancer Campaigns and Advocacy Network

Member, Bristol & Weston Breast Care Services Review Project Board

Independent Patient Adviser, Bristol & Bath Head and Neck Cancer Services Review.

Graduate, Project Lead & Project Lead Clinical Trials

copied to:

Steve Webb, MP for Thornbury and Yate

Jack Lopresti, MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke

Fabian Richter

Paul Burstow, MP, Care Services Minister

May 16, 2010

Independent on Sunday: ‘Top-level review ordered into sacking of whistle-blower
Filed under: Private Eye — Tags: , , , — Dr. Phil @ 11:45 am

Top-level review ordered into sacking of whistle-blower
New Health Secretary promised before election to give better protection to concerned NHS staff ‘moles’

By Nina Lakhani
Sunday, 16 May 2010

The new Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, has ordered an unprecedented high-level investigation into why a senior NHS manager was sacked for whistle-blowing.

John Watkinson was dismissed from his post as chief executive by the Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust (RCHT) in 2009 following pressure from the Strategic Health Authority (SHA), which oversees the NHS in the South-west.
An employment tribunal ruled last week that the Mr Watkinson was clearly “to be got rid of” after he refused to close a local cancer service without proper public consultation. His resolve to fulfil the legal obligation to consult patient groups was seen as an “irritant” to SHA bosses, determined to move the upper gastro-intestinal cancer service to a larger centre in Devon.

The tribunal panel was highly critical of the fact the SHA chief executive, Sir Ian Carruthers, and chairman, Sir Michael Pitt, were not called by the Trust to give evidence. Several witnesses refused to answer straightforward questions and key documents were also withheld from the tribunal, says the judgment.

Mr Lansley has taken the rare step of asking the most senior figure in the NHS, its chief executive Sir David Nicholson, to investigate the activities of the SHA over the sacking. However, experts claim an independent inquiry is needed to guarantee fairness and transparency. Mr Lansley refused to be drawn on whether a pledge to improve legal protection for NHS whistle-blowers made while in opposition last month would be honoured.

Dr Peter Gooderham, a whistle-blowing expert from Manchester University’s Law School, said: “Following the Stafford scandal we were repeatedly told by ministers that whistle-blowers enjoy complete legal protection. This case is the latest which shows this to be untrue. It should be an inquiry headed by a demonstrably independent person given the seniority of Sir Ian.”

John Watkinson had dedicated his life to the NHS, joining it as a store man at 19 before working his way up to chief executive by the age of 35. He was headhunted for the Cornwall job while chief executive of the struggling Bromley NHS Trust in south London. When he moved his family to Cornwall in January 2007, the hospital had been rated the “worst performing trust” by the health watchdog after several management changes, spiralling debt and a failure to meet performance targets.

Mr Watkinson’s team made good progress within the first year. Morale improved, waiting time targets were met and financial woes began to ease. It was voted the “most improved trust” of 2008. So what went wrong?
In 2001, the Department of Health issued guidance for improving the survival rates for cancer patients. Upper GI cancer is rare and outcomes are better if specialists treat at least 50 patients a year. As a result, the SHA wanted to transfer the small Cornwall service to Devon.

But there is a legal obligation to consult local people before such changes are made. The tribunal ruled that Mr Watkinson was sacked by the Trust because he refused to bow down to SHA pressure on this issue. It rejected the assertion made by the Trust that he was dismissed because of reported failings at his previous job or a breakdown of trust and confidence in his leadership.

The tribunal judgment said “his dismissal flew in the face of any concept of fairness” and stated the “appeal was a travesty of anything approaching basic concepts of fairness.”

The SHA denies exerting pressure on the Trust board. A RCHT spokesperson said: “We contest the judgment of the Tribunal and are considering an appeal. We welcome the fact that the new Secretary of State for Health has asked the NHS chief executive to review these matters and we look forward to setting the record straight.”
Speaking exclusively to the IoS, Mr Watkinson has described his dismay at being forced out of the NHS after 34 years of continuous service. He gave a warning about a pervasive bullying culture faced by NHS staff which threatens patient care.

He said: “I’ve been booted out at a time when surely experienced people like me are most needed. That makes me very sad. I love the NHS and I’d like to go back, but you can’t meet tough financial targets and keep clinical standards up by bullying people.”

His legal fees thus far are about £200,000. Unemployed at the age of 54, his house is up for sale. “I would much rather be in work, but they have damaged my reputation so badly, that I’ve not been able to get another job. The public have a right to know how much money has been spent on kicking me out of the NHS unfairly,” he said.
“This wasn’t the way I should have gone out of the NHS. I wasn’t expecting a band, but I wasn’t going to accept being booted out like this, not after 34 years, with a good record in tough places. Yes I won, but it has cost me a lot of money and it’s a terrible way for it to end.”

May 14, 2010

Lots of reaction from latest Private Eye column….
Filed under: Private Eye — Tags: , , , — Dr. Phil @ 12:44 pm

Here’s a post from Andy Cowper from Health Policy Insight ( in response to Private Eye, and responses from Dr Gabriel Scally, Regional Director of Public Health For The South West in defence of Carruthers, and a further response to that from a former NHS manager and colleague of John Watkinson. Any other responses from either side welcome. Please post below.

Editor’s blog Wednesday 12 May 2010: Employment Tribunal trashes Sir Ian Carruthers’ treatment of Royal Cornwall CE
Publish Date/Time:
05/12/2010 – 12:34

The excellent Dr Phil Hammond is well-known for his nom-de-plume as Private Eye’s MD.
His latest Eye column, reproduced here on his website, looks at the Employment Tribunal’s ruling over the suspension and subsequent dismissal of Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust chief executive John Watkinson in 2008.
The RCHT disciplinary action followed Watkinson’s protesting against the SHA’s plans involving a lack of (legally-required) consultation over changes to gastro-intestinal services in the region.
Phil has kindly hosted the written verdicton his site.

It is comprehensive in its condemnation of RCHT’s actions towards Watkinson, and pins the blame for their proceedings against him firmly on Sir Ian Carruthers and the SHA, NHS South-West.
By any legal standards, the rebuke is complete (though it also reserves some criticism for Watkinson for reading from his correspondence during the hearing).

It states:
“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”.

Aspects of NHS management are not for the faint-hearted. Sometimes, difficult decisions have to be taken. A good balance of judgment is required.

Employment law is, ultimately, pretty simple: you have to follow proper procedure, and be reasonable and fair.
In NHS management and in employment law, the secret of success is knowing how not to go too far.
It is unfortunate to see clear evidence that Sir Ian, whose career has been a successful one (including his tenure as acting chief executive of the NHS post-Crisp and pre-Nicholson), has acted so foolishly and unreasonably in this case.
Dark rumours have been emerging from the patch about the driving of activity to be the SHA with the country’s shortest waits costing the health economy across the region serious good-will.

Dark rumours always emerge; this news makes them seem better-founded.
I don’t know John Watkinson. I do know that when a medical director resigns in protest at their chief executive’s defenestration (as Dominic Byrne did in this case), you can reasonably assume that something seriously wrong has taken place.

As Hammond points out, this also undermines NHS South West’s ability to make the case not only for this reconfiguration (which in a bitter irony, Hammond suggests is probably clinically appropriate), but for other service reconfigurations going forwards.

If SHAs survive the policy turbulence, the lack of faith in NHS South West’s processes that this will engender is bad news.
It may now be time for Sir Ian to consider spending more time with his beloved Southampton FC and Somerset CC. At 59, he is young enough to enjoy it. This is not the sort of thing for which he should be remembered.
In football terms, this verdict is akin to relegation from the premier league. In cricketing terms, it’s an innings defeat.

Editor’s blog Right Of Reply Thursday 13 May 2010: Health Policy Insight blog on Sir Ian Carruthers “inaccurate and offensive”Publish Date/Time:
05/13/2010 – 19:46
The Health Policy Insight Editor’s Blog condemning the treatment of Royal Cornwall Hospitals’ former chief executive John Watkinson is inaccurate and offensive.
The claim for unfair dismissal was made not against Sir Ian Carruthers or the South West Strategic Health Authority but against Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, which made its own decisions acting on independent legal advice.
Your piece makes reference to Sir Ian’s distinguished, 41-year track record in the NHS but fails to mention that John Watkinson’s suspension from Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust followed an independent review which concluded that the Trust was headed towards ‘corporate failure’.

This review was in itself triggered by a damning report by Michael Taylor into the financial management and governance at John Watkinson’s former Trust, Bromley Hospitals, which was shown to have accumulated debts of £87 million.
As for ‘dark rumours’ about the driving of activity to achieve the shortest waits, we are proud of our ambitions which have been set out and led by clinicians themselves as part of the High Quality Care For All agenda.

It was this same pursuit of clinical excellence that led the Strategic Health Authority to support the drive to reconfigure upper gastrointestinal cancer services in one specialist centre, in line with Improving Outcomes Guidance and with the endorsement of two independent expert clinical consultants who conducted a local review.
Saving lives, not reputations
The aim here is to save lives, not reputations.

A recent Strategic Health Authority Assurance Process, undertaken by the Department of Health, highlighted a culture in NHS South West that was fair and based on strong partnerships between NHS organisations and people.
The findings, published recently, said that our ‘top team is widely respected across the healthcare system.’ It also said that we had a ‘gold standard approach’ and ‘a highly effective approach to managing individual NHS organisations characterised by well-judged and appropriate interventions.’

You claim that ‘by any legal standards, the rebuke is complete.’ You should be aware that the legal process itself is not complete as Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust is actively considering an appeal.
Since John Watkinson’s departure the new management team at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has turned the organisation around – they are now meeting national standards and are no longer considered a‘failing’ Trust for the first time in years.
This is hardly an innings defeat, least of all for Sir Ian.

Dr Gabriel Scally
Regional Director of Public Health For The South West


The response from NHS South West is laughable. It asserts error but fails to demonstrate it, and it’s also worth noting that the response conveniently ignores the point that the review showing RCHT heading to ‘corporate failure’ was thoroughly discredited by the employment tribunal.

I was also greatly amused to see a couple of ‘old stand-by’ PR tactics deployed by NHS South West in the response: if you know you are going to be criticised and have no real defence, get a third party report manufactured (the ‘SHA Assurance Process’ ) that gives you something to hide behind. Secondly, the ‘we’re considering an appeal and therefore can’t comment’ manoeuvre, which enables you to kick the issue into the long grass for a while, and hope that everyone forgets. (I say with confidence that these are tactics because they’re exactly what I would have done given the desperate circumstances facing Carruthers et al!)

May 11, 2010

Dr Phil’s Private Eye Column Issue 1263, May 12, 2010
Filed under: Private Eye — Tags: , , , — Dr. Phil @ 10:07 am

Bully balls

Whatever happens to the NHS post-election, it desperately needs to be freed from its bullying culture. ‘New’ Labour talked a lot of tosh about devolution and empowerment  but controlled mercilessly from the centre and swept dissenters aside, as illustrated by the shockingly unfair dismissal of the chief executive of Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT) John Watkinson.

Watkinson took up his post in January 2007 and proved to be a popular and effective leader until he had the temerity to challenge Sir Ian Carruthers, the chief executive of the South West Strategic Health Authority (and a former acting Chief Executive of the NHS). In 2008,  Carruthers decided to centralise upper gastrointestinal’ cancer cervices to a single site in Plymouth rather than spread them out over the three existing sites in Plymouth, Exeter and Cornwall.

The need for reconfiguration was not disputed by Watkinson – complex treatment needs a concentration of expertise and resources – but he wanted more debate about whether Plymouth was the best choice and was wary of the fact that the then health minister Ben Bradshaw had lent support to his own unit in Exeter, which would have left Cornish patients with a two-hour trip to Plymouth without much benefit. But most importantly, he wanted to ensure that his hospital’s legal duty to proper public consultation was enforced.

Carruthers was less keen on public consultation. In a meeting in May 2008, he tetchily announced that the entire population of Cornwall could sign a petition opposing his plans and it wouldn’t matter, because this was government policy. Watkinson’s legal advice was that this hospital would be breaking the law if it avoided public consultation  and informed the RCHT board of this.

Watkinson and his chairman Peter Davies were then summoned to a deeply unpleasant meeting with Carruthers and told to toe the line. Instead Davies resigned his post and later, Watkinson was invited to take a ‘special leave of absence’ in September 2008 and subsequently sacked, and medical director Dominic Byrne resigned in protest at the treatment of Watkinson. So despite having the overwhelming support of the staff and patients, Watkinson found himself on the dole, and Carruther’s reconfiguration – without proper public consultation – came into force in January 2010. The local Overview and Scrutiny Committee referred the move to the Health Secretary and it s now the subject of an independent review due to report later this year.

However, the judgment from Watkinson’s employment tribunal appeared on May 6. The unanimous verdict of the panel was he was unfairly dismissed, that the dismissal was both procedurally and substantively unfair, and that he was dismissed simply for advising the hospital of its duty to undertake public consultation before reconfiguring services. The evidence put forward by RCHT was ‘in many respects unsatisfactory’ and Carruther’s behaviour ‘a matter for adverse comment’. He  refused to give evidence even though his office is was across the road from the tribunal in Taunton.

Carruther’s is unlikely to fall on his sword but his bullying has destroyed the career of a gifted and popular NHS chief executive, created a vast amount of resentment in Cornwall and left the NHS with a hefty bill for the cost of the tribunal and Watkinson’s likely compensation package. He has also threatened the viability of the reconfiguration he forced through, a tragedy given that it is probably best for the NHS, and most staff and patients could have been won over with proper consultation. This bullying bodes poorly for other reconfigurations in the south-west, particularly of pathology services in Bristol which are currently subject to an independent inquiry triggered by the Eye and provided by two hospitals neither of which has a permanent chief executive. I wonder why they left?

The Watkinson tribunal report is available in full here.


Page 1 of 1