Doctor, doctor….Honorary doctorates in the NHS

By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 17 December 2019

“Dr” Paula Vasco-Knight

Disgraced former NHS CEO and convicted fraudster Paula Vasco-Knight referred to herself as “Dr Vasco-Knight” simply based on an honorary doctorate that she received from Exeter university.

Postscripts on Paula. NHS England’s apologia & regulatory reticence

This was not challenged by NHS England, but positively indulged.

A congratulatory statement  by Malcolm Grant Chair of NHS England reinforced the usage of the honorary title:

Screenshot 2019-12-17 at 08.55.05


Rampant Ranidae

Kermit the Frog was famously awarded an honorary doctorate:

Doctor of Amphibious Letters


Dr who?

A current example of the apparent usage of an honorary title with regards to a senior NHS manager, a regulator no less, was drawn to my attention.

I enquired further and was advised by Dido Harding the Chair of NHS Improvement that the individual had stressed that she herself did not use the honorary title at all:

“…she wanted me to stress that she doesn’t use the title at all herself”

NHSI postulated that the use of the honorary title by a government website had been picked up and perpetuated by others.

NHSI gave an undertaking to correct the erroneous government website entry. This implied that the individual did not hold a PhD in addition to the honorary doctorate.

I accepted this explanation from NHSI in good faith, and the government website was duly corrected.

However when I shared the outcome with those who had been concerned, more evidence was sent to me. This appeared to show that the individual had used the honorary title herself.

A video showed her speaking in September 2016 in front of powerpoint slides which bore her name preceded by the title “Dr”.

Some further checking revealed two other similar and recent examples: photos of her standing in front of other powerpoint slides in March and in May 2019, bearing the title “Dr”. There was also a set of presentation slides attributed to her from 2013, bearing the title “Dr”.

Granted, the slides could have been compiled by someone else. But it is the responsibility of speakers to check slides before presenting. Uncorrected errors on at least four occasions were troubling.

Moreover, further searches revealed several references by Monitor, NHS England and NHS Improvement to the individual using the title ‘Dr’, including reports for the board up to 2018.

There was also a Keogh review report by her, from 2013, bearing the title “Dr”.

Of note, the individual was one of the very senior signatories to a letter in September 2017, urging regional Chief Nurses to ensure that nursing staff accurately represented their qualifications:

“we would suggest that you do the following:

• Ensure that all staff titles recognised as delivering nursing or midwifery care clearly reflect their registered/regulated status and consider whether if the word ‘nurse’ is used that this is appropriate;

Ensure that the correct processes are in place as to how such roles are advertised in relation to identifying their registered/regulated status, aligned qualifications and the boundaries of the roles;”

I have sent the additional information to Dido Harding.

Gribbit, gribbit.



This is not the first brush that NHSI has had with contentious qualifications.

Jon Andrewes a former NHS trust chair and Freedom To Speak Up Guardian was convicted for a fraud in which he fabricated his CV in order to land senior jobs in the NHS:

Freedom to Speak Up Guardian jailed

This was NHSI’s defensive and lacklustre response to a challenge about its poor governance in appointing him:

Jon Andrewes fraud: NHS Improvement responds

This is an interesting academic paper about the “proliferation” of honorary professorships amongst senior NHS managers, and the misuse of honorary titles:

So, what’s in a title? The paradox of nursing professors!

David Thompson honorary professorships

Sorry is the hardest word: CQC, Paula Vasco-Knight and Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons

Replacing the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA)


“Doctor, doctor I think I’m suffering from Déjà Vu”

“Didn’t I see you yesterday?”

Screenshot 2019-12-17 at 09.05.10

2 thoughts on “Doctor, doctor….Honorary doctorates in the NHS

  1. Thank you for the first laugh of the season – a time of pantomime, mischief and mayhem.

    If I might add to your catalogue of “doctors.” I recall a TV documentary on that great humanitarian and benefactor, Jimmy Saville, wherein a fawning NHS report referred to him as – “Dr Jimmy Saville.”


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