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Friday, 11 August 2017

Plackard sorts it out

Things are looking bad for the board of England's most troubled health economy, which is unfairly held to account for the failings of patients, staff and policymakers. Meanwhile, David Rummage faces a personal crisis as an outside expert arrives to take charge of Blithering's digital strategy. Only one man can avert disaster...

“What the hell was that about?” David Rummage demanded, as the meeting broke for coffee.

“It’s fantastic news,” said Martin Plackard, director of communications, corporate memory and forward views. “Professor Spool is a huge coup for Blithering. He’s a friend of Bob Wachter and he once played sax in a band with Tim Kelsey.”

“The man’s a fool, Plackard,” replied Rummage. “He caused a queue into the car park this morning because he couldn’t work out how to operate the entry barrier, I had to help him with the Nespresso machine and you saw him trying to use the projector – hopeless.”

“They probably have something far more advanced at MIT, like holograms,” said Plackard. “He won’t be used to working at this level.”

“Never mind that, I need to know where I stand,” Rummage said, crossly.

Digital exemplar

Stephanie Stent, chief executive of the newly merged NHS Blithering and West Loosely Hospitals Trust, had introduced Professor Maynard Spool during the morning session of the STP partners’ meeting. Spool would be Blithering’s chief clinical information officer. He would also oversee Blithering’s contribution to the digital exemplar programme.

Dr David Rummage, Blithering’s public health lead and head of innovation was annoyed on both counts. Not only did he regard Blithering’s clinical systems as very much his area of expertise, they were also very much his main source of income. Rummage was founder and chairman of RumCo, provider both of the SystemRum GP system and the Rumpucare hospital information system.

Given its unbroken record of spectacular IT failures, Blithering’s appointment as one of the national digital exemplars had come as a surprise, not least to NHS England. By the time the computer error had been discovered, it was too late. Simon had already made the speech and the HSJ had published the list of chosen areas.

Software licence

“It’s a licence to print bloody money,” said Rummage.

“So what’s your problem?” asked Plackard. “You’re in pole position – and it’s great PR for Blithering, except for the potential conflict of interest angle, but I can handle that.”

“You don’t get it, Plackard,” said Rummage bitterly, lighting another cigarette.

“Didn’t you hear Spool tell us that he’s going to make sure a limited number of systems end up on the procurement framework. If you Google his CV, it’s easy to work out which ones – a load of over-engineered American junk designed in the mid-nineties by companies he advises.”

Plackard shrugged. “I’m sorry David, I don’t see what I can do to help,” he said.

Strategic review

When the meeting reconvened after lunch, Liz Wanhope, accountable officer of Blithering CCG, looked more harried than usual.

“I really need suggestions,” she said, looking round the table.

Martin Plackard was first to speak.

“So let’s review the situation. NHS England has for some reason decided that Blithering’s recent troubles are the responsibility of the board. We are being made a scapegoat for problems created by rising demand, growing financial pressures and a hostile press.”

Stephanie Stent arched her thin eyebrows. “You left out the bits about the enormous deficit, shocking mortality figures, plummeting morale, whistleblowing scandals and recent imprisonment of your finance director,” she said.

“To be fair, Tony’s voyeurism never affected his professional performance,” replied Plackard. “But let’s look at the positives. Take primary care: it’s a long time since any of our practices got a poor CQC rating.”

Dr David Rummage made a choking noise. “Only because the inspectors are too scared to visit them anymore,” he said.

Liz Wanhope raised a hand: “This isn’t getting us anywhere,” she said. “Did you have a suggestion, Martin?”

Plackard did.

Independent findings

“I have commissioned a respected independent consultancy to conduct a review of the CCG, focusing particularly on the performance of the board,” he said.

“Really?” said Wanhope doubtfully. “That doesn’t sound like a very good idea to me.”  

“What better way could there be to demonstrate that the board is confident, has nothing to fear and is totally committed to transparency?” asked Plackard.

“But we have everything to fear,” said Rummage.

Plackard shook his head. “Obviously we will set the parameters of the review to ensure that the findings are both fair and robust. I fully expect it to conclude that Blithering faces a number of challenges, but that the board is working tirelessly for the local population, has already taken significant steps and aims to make further great progress in the near future.”

Mission uncritical

Stephanie Stent snorted. “No one will believe it if you publish a whitewash,” she said.

“You’re absolutely right, Stephanie,” agreed Plackard, “which is why for the sake of authenticity the report will be highly critical of some minor aspect of the CCG, such as the frequency of meetings. The press will love it, but no one else will care because that’s what all CCGs do. Meanwhile it will divert attention away from more serious areas of underperformance.”

Even Stent looked impressed. “Not bad,” she said. “How long will it take the consultants to do the review?”

Packard slid a small document from his pile of meeting papers. “I have a summary of the findings here,” he said. “No point in wasting money on the full report. We’ll just release this under protest after the HSJ puts in an FOI request. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a rumour to start.”

The mood was considerably lighter as Plackard hurried out and the primary care lead arrived with the afternoon tea.

Spool’s wrong turn

“Where’s Professor Bumble?” asked Rummage gloomily, when he met Plackard in the vaping area.

“Oh, he left hours ago,” said Plackard.

“Probably to buy more shares in IT companies run by his mates,” said Rummage.

“I don’t think Professor Spool will trouble us for a while,” said Plackard. “He was still a little confused when he left. He may have misunderstood the directions I gave him because I saw him turn right onto the dual carriageway.”

Rummage frowned. “You mean…”

“Yes,” said Plackard gravely, “straight into the oncoming traffic, I’m afraid.”

Editor: Julian Patterson

@jtweeterson
julian.patterson@networks.nhs.uk

 
Judy Aldred
Judy Aldred says:
Aug 11, 2017 08:46 AM

Oh my - that took a dark turn! Trouble is these spoofs are usually close to the mark! Will be glued to the news today.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Aug 11, 2017 09:45 AM

Obviously no relation to reality, Judy. No fictional characters were harmed in the making of this episode.Professor Spool will be safely back at his hotel trying to work out how to use the trouser press.