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24 hours in Blithering


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Friday, 24 March 2017

24 hours in Blithering

In the latest episode in the long-running saga about the country's most challenged health economy Martin Plackard joins forces with the scourge of whistleblowers, whingers and waste Sir Trevor Longstay.

Wednesday 4:15pm 

Plackard is barely able to contain his excitement, which gives him the appearance of a weasel uncovering a nest of baby mice.

“Stephanie is moving on,” he says, attempting nonchalance. “Sir Trevor will be stepping in.”

“Oh, God! Not Longstay,” exclaims Liz Wanhope. “That’s all we need.”

Martin Plackard, head of STP communications and imagineering, brings his boss up to speed.

Stephanie Stent, chief executive of St Jordan’s, Blithering’s acute trust, is departing under a cloud. Her increasingly vocal concerns about the effects of funding pressures on patient safety have led to friction with the board and particularly with Sir Trevor Longstay, the chair. Now Stent has resigned amid banner headlines proclaiming boardroom treachery.

Plackard and Stent never saw eye to eye.  He considered her “unstrategic”. She referred to him as “Plonkard”.

By contrast, Plackard has never hidden his admiration for Sir Trevor Longstay, millionaire founder of the WasteAway clinical waste disposal and surgical supplies empire. Sir Trevor is a windbag of the old school, a stickler for process and a firm believer that you can measure the success of an organisation by the sheer weight of its board papers.

Once while playing a round of golf with the great man, Plackard had glowed with pride after Sir Trevor commended his STP comms plan for its “range, scope and above all density”.

“Sir Trevor will also take Stephanie’s role as STP lead until a suitable replacement can be found. I’ve got him an interview with the HSJ. Oh, and he’ll start by chairing tomorrow’s meeting,” Plackard says, with the air of a chap tucking into his first mouse of the day.  

“Oh God!” says Wanhope again.

Thursday 9:18am

The members of the STP steering group find it hard to concentrate as Dr David Rummage glowers at them through the soundproof glass wall of the boardroom that symbolises NHS Blithering CCG’s commitment to transparency.

Rummage is furious.

Sir Trevor has insisted that he is excluded from the voting on grounds of conflict of interest.  Rummage protests that his role as CCG chair, his major shareholding in the Our Blithering All Together “superpractice”, the RumCloud IT services business, and his RumaKabin GP pop-up premises venture bring a George Osborne-like wealth of experience to the steering group. But Sir Trevor is having none of it. Even Rummage’s trump card, his chairmanship of the governance subcommittee, cuts no ice.

Thursday 10:30am

During a break in the meeting. Plackard flicks on the wall-mounted LCD to display Sir Trevor’s interview in the online edition of the HSJ.  Beneath the headline “Longstay cleans up Blithering”, Sir Trevor pursues his favourite theme: how sloppy governance and lax moral standards are undermining confidence in public institutions.

He goes on to welcome the financial pressure that “keeps us all on our toes” and argues that the efficiency targets set for the NHS “are a good start but do not go far enough”. Sir Trevor reserves particular praise for the “sensible and pragmatic steps taken by the Department of Health to relax the NHS procurement rules”.

Sir Trevor declares himself satisfied with Plackard’s handiwork. “Good work, Malcolm,” he says. Plackard knows better than to spoil the moment by correcting a knight of the realm.

Thursday 11:55am

Item seven on the agenda is a subject close to Longstay’s heart. He declares that whistleblowers are a sign of failure and will not be tolerated. He calls for new measures to protect those who expose and discredit them.

“I don’t want my managers to be afraid to come to me if they suspect someone of snitching or doing anything that might undermine the safety of the board,” he says.

The meeting breaks for lunch pledging to defend those brave enough to stop others from speaking up.

Thursday 1:22pm

After several phone calls conducted in a conspiratorial whisper, David Rummage disappears for an urgent meeting offsite.

Thursday 2:15pm

Councillor Alan Spume presents a short paper outlining spending plans for social care in light of the extra funding promised by the chancellor’s spring budget.

“It’s not a lot of money, but it could make a big difference,” he says.

But as acting head of finance Karen Sleet points out, Spume may not have thought through the implications.  

Increased spending on social care could unblock beds, she explains, but the council would need to meet the costs of the extra capacity it was helping to create.

Did the councillor have any idea how many old people could be released into the community tomorrow if there was any sign of new money in social care? The colour drained from Spume’s cheeks. 

Would it not be more sensible to hand over any additional cash to the NHS to keep people in hospital longer and protect social care from a potential tsunami of demand? 

As Spume writes out a large cheque he agrees that he’s had a very lucky escape.

Thursday 4:10pm

Just as the meeting is about to consider any other business, a strangulated noise comes from Martin Plackard, who appears to be having some kind of fit.

“What is it, Tarquin?” asks Sir Trevor.

Plackard slides his iPad across the table. The HSJ has followed up the interview with Sir Trevor with an expose alleging serious irregularities in a multimillion pound contract for surgical supplies between St Jordan’s and WasteAway Plc.

The story quotes an anonymous whistleblower in the CCG’s senior management and produces documentary evidence that could only have been obtained from Sir Trevor’s RumCo laptop. There are also several damning quotes from recently deposed CEO Stephanie Stent describing her concerns about governance at the trust and the bullying culture in the boardroom.

Ms Stent hints that she might be persuaded to return, but promises sweeping changes to the “old boys’ network”. 

Thursday 4:17pm

As a local television news crew pulls into the car park, Sir Trevor’s gold Rolls Royce departs at speed, waved off by David Rummage and Liz Wanhope.

Martin Plackard is last seen pressing his head against the glass partition. He makes a curious whimpering sound not unlike a dying weasel.

Editor: NHS Networks


Ben Lee
Ben Lee says:
Mar 24, 2017 09:01 AM

A classic.. if only you'd shaken up the chronological order (which is surely a mere inconvenience anyway) this wd surely have been the sequel to Heller's Catch 22.

gordon david cairns
gordon david cairns says:
Mar 24, 2017 09:26 AM

Really good again but when I pressed the vote button last weeks vote was still on . Can you change it please