NHS Improvement

HR practices in NHS are embarrassing

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As a former NHS Trust HR Director I cringe with embarrassment every time I read about yet another recruitment cock-up in the NHS.

At the end of 2016 we had the case of Katrina Percy, CEO of Southern Health Trust,  who, after coming under severe criticism following the death by drowning of a vulnerable teenager, was seconded into a made-up job, for which there were no other candidates, on her existing salary. Public pressure eventually forced her to resign.

And her chairman Mike Potter resigned just before the publication of a damming report by the Care Quality Commission.

And then we had Mike Scott CEO of St George’s University NHS Trust which was put into special measures under his watch. Did he lose his job? No, he was seconded on his salary to the NHS Improvement team helping other Trusts (not to go into special measures presumably).

And his successor, Paula Vasco-Knight, had been the COO under him and you would think would bear some responsibility for the Trust’s deteriorating position. She only actually lasted two weeks in the CEO role before she was suspended after allegations of fraud by her previous employer Devon NHS Trust.

She’d already been severely criticised at an employment tribunal after the way she treated whistle-blowers who accused her of nepotism. She’d tried to play the race card at the tribunal but to no avail.

Interestingly at one time Mrs Vasco-Knight was NHS England’s national lead on equality and diversity matters, was the first female BME Chief Executive in the NHS, received an honorary doctorate in Law from Exeter University and a CBE in 2014 for her work on equality and diversity. So obviously ticking a lot of the right boxes.

And is that why people turned a blind eye and didn’t carry out proper checks before appointing herald then ignored her bullying behaviour?

I ask because this week it’s been revealed that a senior NHS boss built £1 million, 10-year career on a fake CV.

Jon Andrewes (photo on right from ITV) called himself a doctor and claimed to have two PhDs. One in ethics management from Plymouth University, and one in business administration from Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh.

He also  claimed a master’s degree from Edinburgh and a degree from Bristol University, plus a diploma from CIMA.

He actually had a diploma in social work and had worked as a builder and probation officer and not, as he claimed, for the Home Office.

He got a job as CEO at St Margaret’s Hospice in Somerset in 2004 and was later appointed to the job of Chairman of the NHS Torbay Care Trust in 2007. In 2015 he beat 117 others to become Chairman of the Royal Cornwall NHS Trust.

Andrewes, aged 63, admitted obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception (when applying for the Torbay and Cornwall jobs) and two counts of fraud (at St Margaret’s hospice). He was jailed for two years and an application has been made to seize his assets.

The Department of Health says it is examining how he came to be appointed to posts such as chairman of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust.

After he was convicted, NHS Improvement admitted that it had not checked his qualifications when it appointed Andrewes under its previous guide of the NHS Trust Development Authority. I wonder if anybody in HR is being disciplined for that oversight?

The Department of Health said:

Mr Andrewes held a significant position of responsibility and trust, and this sentence sends a clear message that fraud of any kind will not be tolerated in the NHS.

What about tolerating serial incompetence?

Some of the people I’ve referred to have probably done more damage to the NHS than Andrewes did but they were rewarded for their failures. It’s a pity we can’t send people to prison for incompetence.

As I said at the top of this post; I despair at the state of HR practices in the NHS. It seems not even the most rudimentary checks are being made. It seems senior people were blinded by his “qualifications”  – as, I suspect, with some of the others when it came to overlooking poor performance.
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I’ve said it before, the NHS can’t afford to go on rewarding failure like this

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Following the shambles surrounding the disgraced CEO Katrina Percy – who eventually resigned from her overpaid, invented position along with her previous chairman, we now have yet another example.

Again a failing Trust, and again the NHS don’t seem to have the determination to deal with a highly paid CEO  who is not delivering.

03cdc52Miles Scott, the former CEO of St George’s University Hospital Trust which has been put into special measures, has walked into a new job on a fixed term secondment to health regulator NHS Improvement on a £220k salary.

He’d been at St George’s for five years (and CEO at Bradford prior to that) so plenty of experience at board level. But he failed to stop the trust being put into special measures by the Quality Care Commission this week.

Sir Mike Richards the chief inspector of hospitals said “I am disappointed that we have found a marked deterioration in the safety and quality of some of the trust’s services since we inspected two years ago, as well as in its overall governance and leadership.”

Worryingly we found that areas in which children and young people with mental health conditions were cared for had not been checked for ligature points and that half the medical staff working with children and young people had not completed level three safeguarding training”

Scott is reported to be “undertaking specific change management projects and providing additional support to the executive team” On £220k a year! Rather overpaid for that remit I think.

Can no-one see the irony of someone who led a deteriorating (in terms of safety standards, governance and leadership) NHS Hospital Trust for two years advising other trusts on how to raise standards? The same with Katrina Percy. What are they thinking of when they make these appointments? Do they think people will really take advice from them in the circumstances?

4982778To make matters worse at St George’s, according to a report in the Times ,his successor, Paula Vasco-Knight, who was the Chief Operating Officer at St George’s before Scott left last month, was suspended after less than two weeks in the job.

This followed serious financial allegations by her previous employer, Devon NHS Trust, that she defrauded them by abusing her position to bypass normal procurement arrangements and essentially siphoned off money to her husband’s company – which she has denied in court.

A statement by St George’s said: “As a result of serious allegations being made against her, Dr Paula Vasco-Knight has been suspended from her role as acting chief executive at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The allegations are financial in nature and relate to her work at a previous employer.

At one time Mrs Vasco-Knight was NHS England’s national lead on equality and diversity matters, was the first female BME Chief Executive in the NHS, received an honorary doctorate in Law from Exeter University and a  CBE in 2014 for her work on equality and diversity. So obviously ticking a lot of the right boxes.

However that passion for equality obviously didn’t extend to recruitment as she was accused of nepotism by two whistleblowers for giving her daughter’s boyfriend a job at Torbay Hospital for which she was criticised by an employment tribunal.

She tried to play the race card at the tribunal saying “On a personal level I found the allegations as nothing less than personal slander and I wonder if a white middle class male chief executive officer would have been treated with such disrespect.”

However that didn’t wash with the tribunal judge Nick Roper who ruled:”We find that there was a concerted effort by the South Devon Healthcare Trust to manipulate the investigation, accuse the claimants of malice, suppress the report and to mislead the other parties as to its contents, with the apparent aim of protecting Dr Vasco-Knight and Mrs Murphy against the force of the claimant’s allegations.

Mrs Murphy was a senior colleague in whom the whistle blowers confided who told them they would lose their jobs ‘through dirty means’ which left them feeling ‘bullied, threatened and intimidated’.

“This was completely contrary to the protection which they should have been offered under the Whistle Blowing guidelines.” said the judge. One of the whistleblowers returned to work, the other received £230,000 in compensation.

You don’t get the impression of a healthy culture under her leadership do you?

That event led to her suspension from the Trust and her eventual resignation. The official line was that she moved North for family reasons and for a time worked for East Lancashire NHS Trust as a management consultant, reportedly on £1,000 a day.

Her LinkedIn page, currently closed down, reportedly gave her roles as a “turnaround director/director of transformation” for Solitaire healthcare, where she says she had been since July 2014, and interim chief operating officer, a role she has held at St George’s since September 2015 where she worked under Miles Scott. So wasn’t she as culpable as him for the failures there? Why then appoint her?

Yet again we have a number of embarrassing failures of leadership or worse and the NHS seem incapable of dealing with them. No wonder the Taxpayers Alliance is up in arms. John O’Connell, the CEO, said “there is a worrying trend of impunity in the public sector where fat cat salaries don’t seem to reflect performance and nobody is held accountable for the failure to provide taxpayers with the services they pay for and expect.

“How can a Trust put in special measures possibly justify such a ludicrously large salary for its former chief executive and – bizarrely  – continue to pay him even after he’s taken on a new role elsewhere?

My point exactly. Why wasn’t he just sacked for poor performance? Why do we have this continuous revolving door of failed executives? Why are we still rewarding failure?