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Dame Jo apologises for personal comments

Care Quality Commission chair Dame Jo Williams has apologised for sharing personal information about the alleged mental health of a board colleague during her evidence to the health select committee yesterday.

During the regulator’s annual accountability hearing with the committee, Dame Jo, who announced her resignation last week, was asked about her actions in relation to non-executive director Kay Sheldon.

Ms Sheldon contacted the National Audit Office and gave evidence to the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust Public Inquiry as a whistleblower after becoming frustrated that her concerns about the regulator’s strategy and culture were not being listened to.

Dame Jo told MPs the board had been working together as a group to address these concerns and described it as a “huge shock” when the other members of the board had learned Ms Sheldon was going to appear at the inquiry.

She said: “There is a difference between raising a concern and expecting having raised it there is immediately going to be a solution. That was the difference between Kay Sheldon and the rest of the board.”

Pressed by MPs as to why she had written to then health secretary Andrew Lasley to request Ms Sheldon’s dismissal on the day she appeared at the inquiry Dame Jo said she felt there had been a breakdown of trust.

“There are processes and procedures that we have within the CQC that she did not choose to use. She could have gone to the secretary of state of a minister to express her concerns,” she said.

“It wasn’t that she shouldn’t and isn’t entitled to raise matters that concern her so deeply but she was working as part of a group and she chose not let us know [she was going to the inquiry].

Dame Jo said she had felt she had a duty of care towards Ms Sheldon - who has previously acknowledged that she has experienced mental health problems - and was genuinely concerned for her mental health.

She added: “I think I need to explain some of the issues that had happened around the autumn of last year. We were going through an exercise in late September which was about developing the board… Kay told us she was embarrassed and ashamed to be a member of the CQC board. Following that she left the meeting and was found to be in considerable distress.”

Dame Jo went into considerable detail about Ms Sheldon’s distress and shared details of comments she alleged Ms Sheldon had made about her mental state during a personal conversation.

A number of MPs called for Dame Jo to retract her comments and criticised her for making such personal comments about someone who was not there to answer them but she initially chose not to do so.

However at the close of the two and a half hour hearing Ms Williams apologised.

She said: “May I express my apology for straying into sharing information that I… regret.”

Ms Sheldon described Dame Jo’s account as a “gross misrepresentation of the facts” and said her treatment by the CQC as someone with a history of mental health problems had been “shameful”.

She disputed Dame Jo’s claim that the issues she had raised were already being dealt with, pointing out the board’s public response to her evidence to the inquiry had not acknowledged her concerns.

Readers' comments (5)

  • If anyone reading this thinks Dame Jo's behaviour is out of the ordinary within the NHS/DH think again. The reverse is true: it is by any measure the norm, with almost every high level board and committee having at least four or five Dame Jo's on it.

    This means that you either toe the line or you are out. Moreover, if you make a fuss or put the interests of patients and the public before the easy life of your board colleagues, you will find yourself being described behind your back as having 'mental health' issues.

    In normal life and on most commercial boards such 'mental health issues' are actively encouraged among colleagues. They are more normally described as character traites and include: 'passion', 'integrity' 'justifiable frustration', 'straight talking' and 'not suffering fools lightly".

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  • Dame Jo's appauling behaviour is the nrom amongst senior mangers in the NHS unfortunatly. Secret deals, group think and backstabbing, are preety standard practice from what I have experienced in 15 years of senior NHS mngt!! Hence I decided to leave as I couldnt beat them and certainly didnt want to join em!!

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  • Managers in all walks of life may find colleagues and staff who raise difficult issues challenging.

    In a healthy organisation such staff - who may include whistleblowers - are listened to and their concerns are either addressed in a timely manner or it is explained why they are not upheld.

    Such an approach is especially important in organisations where safety is a priority - or where regulation and inspection to help assure safety is a priority.

    Unfortunately it is common for those who raise issues which challenge senior managers to face a "closing of ranks". This is regularly reported in discrimination cases and certainly also in whistleblowing cases.

    Indeed I have myself represented a number of staff where if they were'nt already made ill by the bullying they received for raising concerns, then the organisation "put the word about" that they were not mentally well.

    Dame Jo's behaviour over an extended period would be serious enough in any ordinary organisation. For the head of the main body charged with assuring safety (and given other evidence by CQC whistleblowers about the culture at the CQC) to say what she said and do what she did is unforgiveable.

    Let's hope David Behan brings a different management culture to the CQC

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  • Commentators above speak with confidence about "the norm" in Boards, and see this as a black and white issue. Could the truth be a bit more complicated or at least varied?

    I have worked with Boards who have dealt honestly and fairly with whistleblowers, even when the whistleblower is a difficult character and there may be questions about their motivation.

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  • You are either in the Club with the establishmentl boys and girls who enjoy the spoils of power or you speak out about things that really matter and are therefore out of the Club; in which case they will turn on you en mass and do their utmost to discredit & break you. The NHS is no different - it should be but it's not, which is why the people at the top are still there despite all the scandals, witch hunts and proven cases of unfair dismissal, whistleblowing, the taxpayers money used to fund gagging orders and most importantly lack of care and 100's of avoidable patients deaths and untold distress to families .

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