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

Whistleblower guardian must shout louder

The office of the national guardian for the freedom to speak up has had a troubled birth.

Created after Sir Robert Francis QC’s review into NHS whistleblowing last year, the first incumbent, Dame Eileen Sills, quit after just two months when she found it was impossible to balance the role with her responsibilities as a trust nursing director.

In the words of the new national guardian, Henrietta Hughes, who started last week, the “hiatus” since Dame Eileen’s departure has been “really challenging”.

It’s positive to finally have someone in post, and many NHS employees will welcome Dr Hughes background, which combines clinical practice as a GP with a management role as an NHS England area team medical director.

However, Dr Hughes should brace herself for further challenges, because she’ll have a tough time winning the confidence of NHS whistleblowers.

Sir Robert’s decision not to imbue the office with statutory powers has received a lot of criticism. But where Dame Eileen Sills pledged to shop trusts to their regulators if they mistreated those who raised concerns, Dr Hughes struck a more emollient tone, stressing that she will issue “recommendations rather than judgments” and will not take a “punitive” approach to organisations.

That’s all well and good, but sometimes a watchdog needs to show its teeth if it wants to be taken seriously.

And while Dr Hughes has emphasised that her office will “not be an investigation body” unpicking specific cases, it’s a safe bet that some whistleblowers will expect her to do exactly that.

New revelations from Morecambe Bay

A senior midwife at the centre of the Morecambe Bay maternity care scandal received an “irregular” redundancy deal, which also saw her avoid an internal investigation into her performance.

Jeanette Parkinson, the former maternity risk manager at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, “appears to have been significantly overpaid (by as much as 14 months)” under a redundancy agreement when she left in spring 2012, according to a new internal review report obtained by HSJ.

The internal retrospective review took place in July this year.

The summary report of the review seen by HSJ reveals that the unusual deal also saw Ms Parkinson receive more than 470 hours of overtime pay, and included an assurance she would not be investigated in exchange for taking the deal, which was agreed with the trust’s then director of human resources and organisational development Roger Wilson.

A paragraph from a compromise agreement between the FT and Ms Parkinson, cited in the summary review report, says: “Following discussions between the employee and the trust, the employee has opted to take early redundancy and as a result the employer has agreed not to commence an internal investigation into the employee’s performance as maternity risk manager.”

Ms Parkinson was heavily criticised in the report of the Kirkup inquiry last year, which examined maternity failures leading to the avoidable deaths of at least 11 babies and one mother at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria.

Morecambe Bay’s current chief executive Jackie Daniel, who joined the trust in August 2012, several months after Ms Parkinson’s departure, confirmed to HSJ that she had ordered the internal investigation.

Mission impossible

Health economy leaders are being forced to draw up sustainability plans which they do not believe can be delivered, according to the national body that represents NHS trusts.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told the Commons health committee on Tuesday afternoon that financial requirements placed on STPs were leading to “vastly over-ambitious” proposals.