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Sir Trevor defends revolving door


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Friday, 4 October 2019

Sir Trevor defends revolving door

Sir Trevor Longstay has hit out at proposals designed to make it harder for failed NHS directors to get new jobs with no questions asked.

The chief executive of NHS Blithering Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust and leader of the Blithering ICS dismissed a proposal by Tom Kark QC that directors’ references should be a true reflection of their character and abilities as “needlessly punitive”. The proposal is with the Department of Health and Social Care.

If the scheme is adopted it would compel NHS trusts to provide complete references in place of the watered down or redacted testimonials negotiated under compromise agreements.  These allow executives departing under a cloud and the organisations that employed them to save face.

Critics say the current rules perpetuate the “revolving door” which allows failed managers to move from organisation to organisation without ever being held accountable for their failures.

Sir Trevor warned that a more transparent approach could create a new generation of bland, risk-averse leaders.

“I worry that we are putting too much emphasis on things like achievement and ability and not enough on character and the cut of a fellow’s jib,” he said.

Quis custodiet? - I do

Sir Trevor is puzzled when asked who guards the guardians. “That’s clearly a role for the chief executive supported by an understanding chair and an acquiescent board,” he said.

“If we start insisting on clarity and full disclosure in references, where will it all end? Next we’ll be asking the HR department to check them – it’s bureaucracy gone mad.”

“If we want to encourage the cream of the talent into top NHS roles, the last thing we need is a level playing-field. Senior people won’t come forward if they think their track record might be held against them or if they feel that there’s one rule for them and the same rule for everyone else.”

The growth of a blame culture could drive talented leaders out of the NHS, he warned.  

“If someone makes a mistake and the media gets wind of it, the individual should be permitted to issue a statement saying how sorry they are, that they have learned from it and that it has made them a better and more humble leader. They should then be allowed to get on with the job.

Climate of fear

"This constant focus on incompetence and wrongdoing is unhelpful and creates a climate of fear. I’m a strong believer in compassion, forgiveness and second chances, particularly for very senior managers.”

Asked about the Nolan principles, which set out standards in public life, Sir Trevor said they were “useful in the right hands, but not for everyone”.

“I used to caddy for Michael [Lord Nolan] and he was always rather surprised that everyone took his principles so literally. Everyone knew that he dreamt them up on the front nine one day and scribbled them on the back of his scorecard. We used to laugh about it in the clubhouse.”

Probity editor: NHS Networks


Istvan Darok
Istvan Darok says:
Oct 12, 2019 06:05 PM

That is wrong. If you are incompetent cannot doing your job as a doctor you may lose your GMC registration.If you are incompetent as a chief executive of an NHS Trust why should this be different ?

Istvan Darok
Istvan Darok says:
Oct 12, 2019 06:06 PM

Sorry for the typo "cannot do your job"

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Oct 23, 2019 08:27 PM

Sir Trevor replies:
Your complaint appears to be that there is one rule for doctors and another for VSMs. I think you are forgetting the very long hours we put in, our commitment, our passion for things and our very real desire for a better, more comfortable world in retirement.
Yours, free at the point of use but costly to procure,