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Monday, 01 September 2014

Evening Mail demands the truth about chief Furness General Hospital boss’s secret deal

THE EVENING Mail has launched a top-level appeal for details of a behind-the-scenes deal agreed following the departure of former Furness General Hospital boss, Tony Halsall.

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RESIGNATION DEAL: Former University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Tony Halsall, who left the trust in February 2012 Lindsey Dickings

The University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, which runs FGH, signed a confidentiality agreement with its former chief executive.

That legal document is now being used by the trust as a basis to refuse to disclose details of any deal made with Mr Halsall following his sudden departure.

Mr Halsall stepped down from his post on February 24, 2012, the same month health watchdog, Monitor, drafted in top healthcare professional, Sir David Henshaw, to revamp the trust’s board.

UHMBT’s annual report for 2011/12 shows their beleaguered boss had a salary band of £135,000 to £140,000, and received around £5,700 benefits in kind.

The figures also show £10,000 to £15,000 in “other” remuneration received by Mr Halsall.

But the trust refuses to reveal specific details of the financial arrangement surrounding Mr Halsall’s departure, saying it would breach a legal contract.

Sir David Henshaw, the interim chairman of UHMBT, said “a legally binding compromise agreement” between the trust and Mr Halsall prevented the disclosure of the contract’s financial details.

He said such an agreement was commonplace in both the public and private sector and was “part of the legal structure in this country”.

“I can say ... that there is no question of Mr Halsall receiving anything other than his contractual entitlement,” he said.

Sir David said blame for the trust’s failures did not rest solely with Mr Halsall, but with “a number of people and systematic issues within the trust”.

“It’s too easy for anybody to make a judgment that one person on their own was responsible for the failures of service quality in Morecambe Bay,” he said.

Nevertheless, upon his appointment, Sir David believed the trust could not recover with Mr Halsall in the role as chief executive.

“It was clear to me that to achieve the recovery at the speed I required that I would need someone new in the role of chief executive,” he said.

“My judgement was that Mr Halsall could not lead that recovery for a number of reasons.”

Due the nature of Mr Halsall’s hastily-announced departure, the Evening Mail believes it sits firmly within the public interest that full details of payments he received are published.

A request under the Freedom of Information Act for this information was rejected, as was a subsequent appeal to the trust.

The Evening Mail has now complained to the Information Commissioner, the UK’s independent authority which upholds information rights in the public interest.

The newspaper began its fight for answers the day Mr Halsall stepped down, after being told details of any financial settlement could not be revealed at that stage.

A request was submitted under the Freedom of Information Act, routinely used to make public bodies release details demonstrably in the public interest.

The trust replied saying Mr Halsall’s salary and any additional bonuses would be covered in the annual financial report detailed above. Talks were still ongoing regarding his notice period.

The FOI request was resubmitted in April 2012 and, after several delays, the trust finally replied in June.

It said: “We are unable to provide a response to your request and are using exemption 40 (2) which provides an exemption from disclosure where the requested information is personal data about a third party.”

The Evening Mail asked UHMBT for an internal review into this decision, arguing the information was in the public interest. The FOI Act states those in positions of power within the public sector should expect greater scrutiny on behalf of the public, especially where failings have occurred.

On October 1, a response was received.

UHMBT chief executive, Jackie Daniel, apologised for several breaches of the FOI Act, including taking too long to reply, failing to confirm or deny whether the trust held the information requested, incorrectly applying the personal data exemption to one question and not including enough detail as to reasons for refusal.

Ms Daniel confirmed the trust holds all the information and revealed Mr Halsall’s notice period.

But, as to whether or not he worked and was paid for it, Ms Daniel said: “This information is not being provided because:

a. The information is the subject of a strict confidentiality agreement between Mr Halsall and the Trust.
b. The information amounts to personal data of Mr Halsall under section 1(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998 (‘the DPA’).
c. The Trust has considered the public interest arguments for and against disclosure of the information and has concluded, on balance, that it would be unfair to disclose Mr Halsall’s personal data and that it would be unlawful to breach the confidentiality agreement.
d. Disclosure of the information would therefore amount to a breach of the first principle of the DPA (i.e. that personal data should be processed fairly and lawfully).”

Those whose families were bereaved by failures which took place under Mr Halsall’s watch have slammed this as “abhorrent”.

Liza Brady and Simon Davey lost their son, Alex Davey-Brady, in September 2008. Alex was classed as stillborn, but an inquest found a number of problems with how his birth was handled.

The couple were among bereaved parents who wrote to Mr Halsall in 2010, urging him to resign from his post.

Of the confidentiality agreement, Mrs Brady said: “It’s an insult to all the families that have been tragically let down by the trust.

“The mortality figures and damning reports speak volumes of how the trust was being managed when Tony Halsall was CEO.

“It would have been in the public interest to disclose details of the financial agreement as it is us, the tax payer, whose pockets have paid for it. Now we may never know.”

Dalton dad, James Titcombe, lost his newborn son Joshua, nine days after he was born at FGH in October 2008. He had to fight to uncover serious failings that led to his baby’s death, which eventually sparked a police investigation into several deaths following care received in Barrow’s maternity unit.

Mr Titcombe said: “If the trust is serious about regaining public trust, they need to be open and transparent in all areas.

“We are constantly being told that money is tight, that savings have to be made and to engage in deciding the priorities in terms of provision of services.

“Clearly then, the public have a right to know how trust funds, derived from the tax payer, are being spent.

“It is abhorrent and against all principles of common decency that details of Tony Halsall’s settlement may never now be known.”

The Evening Mail approached Mr Halsall through the NHS Confederation, where he now holds an unpaid role as an associate director.

He did not wish to comment.

Have your say

How refreshing to see the North West Evening Mail comments page being used by intelligent people like Cappuccino and former patient whose comments I could not agree with more. Strongly recommend you look at the www.morecambebayinquiry.co.uk and sign the petition.

Posted by Steve on 4 February 2013 at 08:49

The cuts have already started for the low- paid frontline workers. When are the fatcat managers going instead of rapidly breeding in their ivory towers. One of them would pay for 5-6 workers dealing with patients but what would they know about patients and their care!!!!!!

Posted by its already started on 29 January 2013 at 22:00

View all 16 comments on this article

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