• Managers are voting with their feet because of aggressive performance management and pressure from regulators
  • Managers in Partnership chief executive says bullying, discrimination and poor wellbeing will not be tackled without proper funding

Fit and proper person regulations are increasingly being used “merely as a sword against managers”, according to the head of the Managers in Partnership trade union.

Jon Restell, chief executive of Managers in Partnership, said the test, brought in after the Mid Staffordshire scandal, was intended to “shield the public”, but it was now part of what he said was an aggressive culture of performance management.

Speaking at the trade union’s summit yesterday, Mr Restell added: “The tension between underfunding and operational realities plays out harshly for managers. National bodies pursuing aggressive performance management. Panicky regulators applying disproportionate pressure.

“Putting the boot into individual public servants doing difficult and skilful work in severely challenged organisations, in jobs often described by those same national bodies and regulators as impossible’.”

He continued: “Is it any wonder that people have started to vote with their feet and so many board posts are vacant?” 

The trade union chief executive said health and social care secretary Matt Hancock was right to call for fewer chief executives to be sacked, but warned this could only be achieved through acknowledging the role underfunding was having in creating what he called “operational ‘impossibilities’”. 

Sir Robert Francis QC, who led the public inquiry into Mid Staffs, recommended a fit and proper person test. This was created in new regulations, overseen by the Care Quality Commission. The regulations have been criticised for not being capable of removing unfit directors. 

Health minister Steve Barclay has asked Tom Kark QC, who was lead counsel at the Mid Staffs public inquiry, to lead a review of the regulations following failings by senior managers at the Liverpool Community Hospital Trust.

The Kark review will examine whether certain behaviours should be specified as misconduct that could lead to senior managers being barred from sitting on NHS boards. It is expected be published later this year.

Mr Restell also told delegates the effects of the pay freeze “would be felt for a long, long time” and said the recent Agenda for Change pay deals “are only a start”.

“They end a destructive pay policy, but they don’t restore what has been lost,” Mr Restell said. “There must now be a decade of investment in pay and conditions for NHS staff.”

He stressed the issues of “poor wellbeing, bullying and discrimination” will not be reduced permanently without tackling the issue of funding to match.

“It is not a choice of funding on one hand and good management on the other,” Mr Restell said. “We need both and let’s stop pretending it can be otherwise.”