By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 7 March 2017
Yesterday, there was much coverage of a bizarre case of fraud by a senior NHS executive that concluded in a two year sentence, handed down by Exeter Crown Court.
Jon Andrewes faked his CV to obtain employment as chair of Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, Torbay Care NHS Trust, its successor Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust and chief executive of St. Margaret’s Hospice in Taunton, Somerset. It was reported that in the course of a decade, Andrewes obtained over £1 million in salary from his fraud. 1 2
What was not reported is that according to publicly available records, Andrewes was also appointed as a non-executive director at Devon Partnership NHS Trust in 2016, 3 4 and crucially, he was that trust’s Freedom to Speak Up Guardian.5
It is unsurprising that the NHS brass have kept quiet about this additional embarrassing fact.
It’s not as if the Freedom To Speak Up Review on NHS whistleblowing was not already discredited.
But what more can you say about the illogic of Robert Francis’ measures, if any old fraudster can be appointed to safeguard transparency, patient safety and whistleblowers’ welfare?
Some have expressed astonishment that such an individual could have walked into senior NHS management.
But I’m not surprised. The NHS has far too many poor and incompetent leaders, who the centre refuses to remove. Paula Vasco-Knight the disgraced former South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Chief Executive, was protected by NHS regulators despite findings of bullying against whistleblowers, until a criminal fraud finally caught up with her:
Vasco-Knight will be sentenced, also at Exeter Crown Court, on 10 March 2017.
The problem of poor NHS leadership is self perpetuating. Poor leaders often appoint poor leaders.
The regulator the NHS Trust Development Authority and its successor NHS Improvement missed two opportunities to pick up Jon Andrewes’ fraud, when he applied for a Chair and a non-executive director post at two non-Foundation NHS trusts. (NHS TDA and NHS Improvement have had direct responsibility for appointing Chairs and Non Executive directors of non-Foundation trusts) . 6
However, Andrewes was repeatedly appointed by the NHS despite the implausible CV that he fabricated, which reportedly included a claim that he was an executive officer at HMRC in 1969 – when he would have been aged sixteen. 1
NHS scandals and whistleblower suppression will continue for as long as there is pervasive club culture and tolerance of managerial incompetence.
I have written to the Health Committee to submit this further evidence on the failure of the Freedom To Speak Up project. The correspondence is copied below.
LETTER TO HEALTH COMMITTEE
7 March 2017
Dear Dr Sarah Wollaston and colleagues,
Further evidence about the flaws of the Freedom To Speak Up Guardian model
I write to briefly submit further evidence as regards a central weakness of the Freedom to Speak Review on NHS whistleblowing.
A widespread criticism of the Freedom to Speak Up Review is that the appointment and line management of Speak Up Guardians by trusts introduces immediate conflicts of interest.
A Speak Up Guardian will only be as effective as the trust that employs them. Poor trusts are more likely to make poor appointments in their own image, or conversely, may bully their Guardians.
In good trusts, Guardians are unnecessary and a waste of public money.
The total cost to the NHS of the Freedom To Speak Up measures, including the cost of appointing Guardians in all trusts, the £1m National Guardian budget and the roadshows, is also considerable.
Yet there is no evidence base for Speak Up Guardians, which the National Guardian herself recently acknowledged.
Rather, there is already evidence that whistleblowers are being failed by the Guardian model. This is a recent report by a current NHS whistleblower:
“I am currently suffering severe detriment after raising concerns. My family is suffering. I was not protected by the local Guardian in my trust. I have sought in vain for help from the National Guardian’s office, but feel as if I am being treated as a nuisance. I feel very worried that in reality, no help will come.”
As a very serious example of an unsuitable Speak Up Guardian appointment, Jon Andrewes – the former Chair of Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, Torbay Care NHS Trust, its successor Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust and also the former non-executive director at Devon Partnership – who was jailed for two years yesterday for fraud and faking a host of qualifications to obtain senior NHS posts, was in fact the Speak Up Guardian for Devon Partnership NHS Trust.
I attach the relevant documents from the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, NHS Improvement and NHS Employers which indicate that Jon Andrewes was a Freedom to Speak Guardian at Devon Partnership Trust.
Questions about NHS TDA and NHS Improvement’s role in making these appointments, particularly as Andrewes’ fake CV reportedly contained obvious anomalies such as claim that he was an executive officer at HRMC at age sixteen.
Questions also arise about the response of the National Guardian’s office.
The National Guardian’s office has been coordinating the network of trust Speak Up Guardians since last year.The National Guardian has a remit for ensuring the integrity of the Speak Up Guardian network.What has been the office’s response to the revelations about Jon Andrewes’ fraud?
I hope that the Committee will consider the substantive law and policy reforms that whistleblowers seek, but which were not delivered by Sir Robert, the Department of Health and the CQC.
This lack of genuine reform is additionally thrown into relief by the fact the National Guardian herself is not seeking the statutory independence and powers that she needs to do her job effectively.
The fact that the NHS repeatedly appointed a fraudster as a senior executive, and also as a Speak Up Guardian, speaks volumes.
The Freedom To Speak Up measures are wholly inadequate in the face of the serious governance challenges.
Dr Minh Alexander
Public Accounts Committee
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
Lord Bew Chair Committee on Standards in Public Life
Sir Amyas Morse Auditor General and Comptroller National Audit Office
Sir Robert Francis CQC NED and Chair of the Accountability and Liaison Committee for National Guardian’s office
Helen Buckingham NHS Improvement Director of Corporate Affairs and member of Accountability and Liaison Committee for National Guardian’s office
Moira Gibb NHS England Non Executive Director and member of Accountability and Liaison Committee for National Guardian’s office
Keith Conradi Chief Investigator Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch
Dr Henrietta Hughes National Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, CQC
Secretary of State
1.A summary of why there is no evidence base for Robert Francis model of Speak Up Guardians
2.A summary of Jeremy Hunt’s inaction on NHS whistleblowing, and the measures that are still necessary
1 Lying Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust boss who was actually a builder is jailed, L Barton, Cornwall Live, 6 March 2017
“He claimed he had a first-class undergraduate and masters degree at the University of Bristol and a masters in business administration at Edinburgh University, the court heard. He also said he studied for PhDs at Plymouth and Heriot-Watt universities, provided an employment history and said he was a partner at a technology firm.
In addition, he lied about working for the Home Office and said he was employed as an executive officer at HMRC in 1969 – despite the fact he would have been just 16 at the time.
Official records show he was employed as a social worker, probation officer and builder”
2 Walter Mitty former builder is jailed for two years after a ‘staggering series of lies’ saw him use a bogus CV to net £1m from two NHS Chairman posts. Rebecca Taylor, Daily Mail, 6 March 2017
3 NHS Improvement published data – list of appointments to NHS trust Chairs and non executive posts
4 Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust declaration of board members’ interests May 2016, which showed that Jon Andrewes was both Chair of Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust and a non executive director at Devon Partnership NHS Trust
5 List of Freedom to Speak Guardians published by NHS Employers
Devon Partnership NHS Trust Board papers 9th May 2016
6 Published information about NHS Improvement’s responsibility for appointing non-Foundation NHS trust chairs and non executive directors