HSJ’s round-up of Friday’s must read stories

Katrina Percy exits

Ten months after the Mazars report detailed Southern Health Foundation Trust’s failure to properly investigate and learn from patient deaths, the seemingly inevitable has happened.

On Friday afternoon, Katrina Percy left the trust’s employment. She stood down as chief executive of the troubled trust less than six weeks ago, saying that “ongoing personal media attention” had made her role “untenable”.

Unfortunately, the terms of her resignation as CEO guaranteed the intensification of that media attention.

She moved into a new role at the trust providing strategic advice on service transformation to Hampshire’s GPs, and continued to draw her chief executive salary of at least £185,000 a year.

The media backlash claimed interim chief executive Tim Smart, who resigned for “personal reasons” last month after just five months in the role.

And now Ms Percy has left. The Southern Health board said it had “reflected” on the feedback it had received from “public, patients and families” and mutually decided with Ms Percy that it was “no longer possible” for her to continue in the newly created role.

But once again, the terms of the departure have guaranteed further controversy.

In addition to her contractual entitlement to six months’ salary, Ms Percy will receive an extra six months’ pay because “independent capability reviews” had determined she was fit to lead and there was no evidence of negligence or incompetence on her part.

In the past it’s been possible for those at the centre to blast local NHS organisations for such payouts, but there can be no passing of the buck this time.

Southern Health said the 12 month deal was supported by “NHS Improvement… by the Department of Health, and by HM Treasury as an appropriate expenditure of public funds”.

As many already suspected, there have been legal machinations behind the scenes. NHSI confirmed that Mr Smart had received advice that there were “no legal grounds” to sack Ms Percy, and that doing so would open the trust and the wider NHS to legal action, potentially resulting in a bigger cost to the taxpayer.

The extent to which Ms Percy bears personal responsibility for the service failures which occurred at Southern Health is something which continues to divide opinion. But whatever your view in that debate, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that her exit from the organisation has been handled poorly by the trust and NHSI.

The most important thing for the NHS – as the controversy rolls into its latest phase – is not to lose sight of the fact that this saga began with the death of a service user, Connor Sparrowhawk, who was badly let down by the trust and drowned in a bath in July 2013.

It’s the service users and patients in Southern Health’s care who must remain the overriding focus of all involved as the organisation strives to improve its care.

Trusts ‘falling short’ on agency spending

NHS Improvement has warned that providers are “falling short” of targets to bring down agency spending, and it may publish lists of the highest earning agency staff at individual trusts.

In a letter sent to trusts on Friday afternoon, seen by HSJ, the regulator described the information that could be published in the next quarterly report for the sector, including:

  • an anonymised list of the 20 highest earning agency staff;
  • an anonymised list of agency staff that have been employed for more than six consecutive months;
  • agency expenditure performance against agency expenditure ceilings; and
  • agency information.

NHSI chief executive Jim Mackey said “across the sector we are falling short of what is needed and must do more to reduce over-reliance on agencies”.