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Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Southern Health - Conspiracy or Cock-up?

Last night, Denise Wyatt and I attended Southampton's Extraordinary Meeting on Southern Health - which the Daily Echo did a "pre-piece" for here.

We were attending as campaigners to reform the NHS, and on behalf of Southampton's families that have suffered at the hands of Southern Health.

Once we had waited for what seemed like an age*, both Denise and I asked questions of Chris Gordon, Chief Operating Officer of Southern Health and Lesley Stevens, Medical Director.

*(yes, like Southern Health's meetings, the "public" had to wait to hear from Southern Health, various other NHS people trying to justify their own existence, and questions from councillors on the Panel).

Other members of the public, and other councillors, were there but did not ask questions.

There were some useful questions from councillors on the Panel. But they should have been tougher on Southern Health, and the Chair Councillor Sarah Bogle was not ensuring that questions were being properly answered.

For example, soon-to-be-retiring Councillor Matt Tucker asked them how many members of the Board were still those who were on the Board during the time that the Mazars report was written for (2011-2015). Ms Stevens and Mr Gordon managed to avoid answering that question when put by Cllr Tucker.

So when I got my chance (the Chair limited my time, although I could have asked questions for at least an hour), I asked this question again. At first, the Southern Health directors claimed that they did not understand what was a very clear question. After much to'ing and fro'ing, I had established that Ms Stevens had been with the Trust, and that the current Chair Mr Petter has been on the Board. And that the current Chief Executive Ms Percy had always been the Chief Executive. It was clear that the directors did not know, or want to say, the number of Board members that were still on the Board.

I was aiming at showing the lack of accountability of those who should be accountable. With so many NHS people around the table, it is difficult to know who is accountable for the crisis at Southern Health. Perhaps they all are - commissioners, quangocrats, directors. With so much fragmentation, accountability is a smudge, not a clear line.

But who is responsible must be determined - and sanctions applied. This is in the power of the Council of Governors - who have fluffed it. It is also in the power of the Trust Board and regulators, who have fluffed it.

And that is why an independent investigation - independent of the NHS, is needed. Otherwise those who are responsible could be perceived to have an interest in covering up their failures. This includes regulators Monitor and the Care Quality Commission (after all, regulators have failed elsewhere including at Mid-Staffs).

And on that note, as Denise pointed out (her eagle eyes spotted this omission), the Panel was not presented with the full facts on how Southern Health was reforming itself. Only half of the infamous spreadsheet "Mortality and SIRI Improvement" that went to the Trust Board in January, went to the Panel (it wasn't provided at all to the Council of Governors).

Why was the information missing on evidence that the reform that Southern Health directors claim was happening - was actually happening? Why was a more rosy picture being painted than is realistic?

Even the normally meek and mild Southern Health Non-Executive Directors challenged the information presented to the Trust Board. Those who were at that meeting, including the bus of Justice for LB campaigners from Oxfordshire, asked why the targets were not more ambitious and why "Action Progress" entries were Amber rather than Red (e.g. Risk of Slippage). This is deaths that are being tallied here, not widgets or B & Q - deaths!!!!!

But this information was missing from the 200+ pages given to Southampton's Emergency meeting.

I have asked Southern Health' Communications Officer for confirmation of what information was provided to the Panel, and whether any of the directors interfered or approved with what was sent.

Conspiracy or cock-up? Let me know which you think it is?

I also asked Southampton City Council 's Appointed Governor Councillor Paul Lewzey why he voted against an independent investigation into Southern Health at the recent Council of Governors meeting (proposed by John Green). He failed to give an answer. Denise also pointed out that he had voted this down during her questions. Cllr Lewzey has asked me to send him an email. It will be interesting to hear his reasoning.