Published: 13/06/2002, Volume II2, No.5809 Page 4

An investigation is under way into the employment of staff from the Royal United Hospital Bath trust at the NHS Leadership Centre, HSJ has learned.

Barbara Harris was chief executive of the trust from 1993. She was appointed director of the Leadership Centre in April 2001.

In December 2001, she stood down from the centre, following a highly critical report from the Commission for Health Improvement condemning the management style at Bath at the time of her tenure (news, 20 December).

CHI found a picture of 'an inner circle' of managers at the trust with 'a limited focus on the needs of the wider staff group'. CHI also drew attention to the trust's practice of making significant changes to managers' roles and responsibilities 'usually without advertisements or interviews', changes which 'do not demonstrate good employment practice'.

HSJ had already revealed that a number of former trust staff had joined the Leadership Centre in the preceding few months (news, 6 December).

The HSJ report also identified 'informal links' between Bath Learning Centre - hosted by the trust - and the Leadership Centre, with what the then Bath centre co-ordinator, Tracy Hicks, called in December an 'obvious blurring of lines between what we do and the national centre'.

A Department of Health spokesperson confirmed this week that employment of former trust staff at the Leadership Centre would form part of the investigation by former North West regional director Robert Tinston, launched in the wake of reviews of waiting-list figures and finances at the trust.These reviews found evidence of 'deliberate falsification' of waiting-list figures and a 'serious' deterioration in the trust's finances, with a projected deficit of£17m.

Ms Harris, who is still employed by the trust, was this week on paid leave, pending possible disciplinary action.

A representative of Ms Harris said the two reviews were 'unsubstantiated' and the former chief executive was 'waiting to clear her name'.

On the staffing investigation, she said: 'No appointments were made from the Bath learning centre to the Leadership Centre. The only thing Bath staff did was admin and answering the phone.'

She made no direct comment on allegations about the employment of trust staff at the Leadership Centre.

The staffing inquiry comes as new DoH waiting-list figures revealed the scale of the effects of 'malpractice' in list management at the trust, where the number of patients waiting more than 15 months for treatment at the end ofApril was 235, compared with 75 for the rest of England.

And a trust spokesperson said 'many' of the long-waiters had first been placed on the Bath list 'in the late 1990s'. In the rest of England no-one has been waiting longer than 18 months.

Ms Harris's representative said the former chief executive had not been at the trust for the past 14 months, and that patients on the 15-month waiting list 'would have been waiting between one and three months'when she left.

But a trust spokesperson said: 'If they had been waiting exactly 15 months, the point would be a reasonable one. But they haven't.

Many of the patients on the Bath waiting list were first placed on the list in the late 1990s - 1998 or 1999.'The trust was working 'furiously' to address the problems, he added.

The RUH Bath saga has also seen the departure of Martin Dove from his post as finance director at Inventures, formerly the trading arm of NHS Estates, the DoH confirmed this week.

HSJ reported on 9 May that Mr Dove, who was seconded from Bath to Inventures in May 2001, had been suspended from his substantive post as finance director at the trust, pending possible disciplinary action.

Inventures has recently moved into offices which it shares with the NHS Leadership Centre in Palace Yard Mews, Bath.