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Editor’s blog Right Of Reply Thursday 13 May 2010: Health Policy Insight blog on Sir Ian Carruthers “inaccurate and offensive"

The Health Policy Insight Editor’s Blog condemning the treatment of Royal Cornwall Hospitals’ former chief executive John Watkinson is inaccurate and offensive.

The claim for unfair dismissal was made not against Sir Ian Carruthers or the South West Strategic Health Authority but against Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, which made its own decisions acting on independent legal advice.

Your piece makes reference to Sir Ian’s distinguished, 41-year track record in the NHS but fails to mention that John Watkinson’s suspension from Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust followed an independent review which concluded that the Trust was headed towards ‘corporate failure’.

This review was in itself triggered by a damning report by Michael Taylor into the financial management and governance at John Watkinson’s former Trust, Bromley Hospitals, which was shown to have accumulated debts of £87 million.

As for ‘dark rumours’ about the driving of activity to achieve the shortest waits, we are proud of our ambitions which have been set out and led by clinicians themselves as part of the High Quality Care For All agenda.

It was this same pursuit of clinical excellence that led the Strategic Health Authority to support the drive to reconfigure upper gastrointestinal cancer services in one specialist centre, in line with Improving Outcomes Guidance and with the endorsement of two independent expert clinical consultants who conducted a local review.

Saving lives, not reputations
The aim here is to save lives, not reputations.

A recent Strategic Health Authority Assurance Process, undertaken by the Department of Health, highlighted a culture in NHS South West that was fair and based on strong partnerships between NHS organisations and people.

The findings, published recently, said that our ‘top team is widely respected across the healthcare system.’ It also said that we had a ‘gold standard approach’ and ‘a highly effective approach to managing individual NHS organisations characterised by well-judged and appropriate interventions.’

You claim that ‘by any legal standards, the rebuke is complete.’ You should be aware that the legal process itself is not complete as Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust is actively considering an appeal.

Since John Watkinson’s departure the new management team at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has turned the organisation around – they are now meeting national standards and are no longer considered a ‘failing’ Trust for the first time in years.

This is hardly an innings defeat, least of all for Sir Ian.

Dr Gabriel Scally
Regional Director of Public Health For The South West