The chief executive of an NHS Trust under fire for its failure to properly investigate the deaths of mental health and learning disability patients will keep her job, it has been announced.
Tim Smart, who was installed by regulators as Southern Health’s interim chair in response to concerns over the trust, said his “comprehensive review” concluded a restructure of the executive team was needed but Katrina Percy should continue as chief executive.
There have been widespread calls for Percy to resign, or be removed, from her post in the wake a series of failings that have emerged about Southern Health since 18-year-old Connor Sparrowhawk drowned in a bath at one of the trust’s learning disability units in 2013.
The trust initially attributed Connor’s death to “natural causes”. This month it accepted responsibility for his death and offered his family £80,000 in compensation.
Today, the grassroots Justice for LB campaign – which was set up in Connor’s memory and includes family members – said the decision to let Percy continue was “beyond belief”.
In a statement the group said: “We are extremely shocked that those who have sat in judgement on this matter would allow Katrina Percy to continue in her role as chief executive. We believe it reflects badly on them and their judgement.
“It is beyond belief given the clear evidence available and a long succession of failures that have come to light. Following on from Mid Staffs and Morecombe Bay [NHS hospital scandals] it does not seem possible this has happened and is happening”.
Connor’s death led NHS England to order a report into the way Southern Health investigated other patient deaths.
The report, by audit firm Mazars, was published last December. It found the trust had failed to properly investigate hundreds of deaths of people with learning disabilities or mental health issues. The report blamed a “lack of leadership” and was heavily critical of senior management and the board.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the findings were “shocking” and “totally unacceptable”. He ordered the Care Quality Commission to carry out a targeted inspection of Southern Health’s response to the failings identified by Mazars.
The CQC review, published in April, found “serious concerns” about the safety of mental health and learning disability patients and said Southern Health’s leadership was “ineffective” in identifying risks.
The trust’s then-chair, Mike Petter, quit ahead of the CQC report’s publication. Health regulator NHS Improvement installed Smart as interim chair and he pledged to review issues at Southern Health.
After six weeks of reviewing the available evidence Smart said he’d found “no evidence of negligence of incompetence of any individual board member” but concluded a “much more outward looking board” was needed going forward.
On Percy, he said she had become “too operationally focused” and would be shifted to oversee development of the trust’s strategy.
He found that the trust, which provides services in Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, operated across “too wide” a geography and recommended its Oxfordshire learning disability services should be transferred to Oxford Health NHS Trust as soon as possible. Smart also recommended that the board should be “further strengthened” with new appointments and a steering group set up to oversee improvements.
He said: “I am confident that these recommendations will see an improvement in the running of the trust and most importantly in the care provided to patients. We must acknowledge, however, the failures that have occurred in the past and I again unreservedly apologise for this.”
The Justice for LB campaigners said Southern Health had “not learnt lessons”, adding: “Sometimes in life it is difficult to understand why certain courses of action are taken or not taken. We cannot understand why this incredulous decision has been made to allow Katrina Percy to remain in her post.
“We have not given up and we are not going away. Instead we have been energised by this unjust decision to continue our fight for the people that now have no voice.”