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Hospital chief found to be ‘fit and proper’

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The health secretary has said that a hospital chief executive has been assessed as ‘fit and proper’, after regulators considered a series of serious concerns against him, LGC’s sister title Health Service Journal has revealed.

  • Phil Morley assessed as “fit and proper”, health secretary says
  • New employer told the TDA it has completed an assessment
  • MP raises concerns again and calls for independent process

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However, an MP who has complained about Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust chief executive Phil Morley has responded by restating her concerns and calling for a new independent process for assessing the “suitability” of senior managers.

The case is one of the first considered under new “fit and proper person” regulation to become public.

Jeremy Hunt 2014

Jeremy Hunt’s letter said there was ‘no evidence’ to suggest Mr Morley’s appointment was unreasonable

Hull North MP Diana Johnson contacted Jeremy Hunt in January about Mr Morley remaining an NHS chief executive. He left Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, where he held the same post, in spring last year. This was shortly before the Care Quality Commission published a report which highlighted “pressure to meet performance targets” and “a bullying culture in some areas”.

A review by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service last summer found widespread perception of bullying at the trust and said “senior staff [were] seen as being supportive of bullies and the bullying culture”.

A whistleblower, Hull’s former director of estates and facilities Pauline Lewin, criticised Mr Morley’s management, while a report by auditors identified problems with financial control during his time in Hull.

A letter from Mr Hunt to Ms Johnson says the NHS Trust Development Authority and the CQC have considered Mr Morley’s case in light of the “fit and proper person” regulation, which came into force in November. It was one of a number of measures introduced in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust Public Inquiry.

It says: “The TDA has… raised [Mr Morley’s position] with the chair of the Princess Alexandra Trust, which informed the TDA that it had carried out an assessment of Mr Morley and concluded that he was a fit and proper person for the position of chief executive. The TDA accepted the chair’s assurance. In light of this, the TDA concluded that there were no grounds to look into the matter further.

“The CQC has confirmed that it has no evidence to suggest that the decision of [the trust] to appoint Mr Morley is unreasonable, having considered the correspondence from a number of sources questioning [his] fitness.”

Responses

Ms Johnson replied to Mr Hunt last week saying she “strongly disagrees” Mr Morley “is a fit and proper person to run a hospital trust”.

She also disagreed that “the process for assessing Mr Morley’s suitability is a robust and transparent one”. She says the regulators have relied on the Princess Alexandra’s judgement and the TDA is conflicted because it was “instrumental in ensuring Mr Morley was appointed”. Ms Johnson says this approach “allows management and financial failings to be obscured and failing senior staff to remain in post” and calls for Mr Hunt to “look again at the processes in place for ensuring that senior hospital managers and trust directors meet the standards necessary to ensure good quality care and, in particular, guarantee the independence of reviews into the conduct of these staff”.

Mr Morley said in a statement: “Whilst I welcome the conclusions of the secretary of state’s letter, I continue to refute the damaging allegations made by Ms Johnson in her response to him. As I have repeatedly stressed, I will always take a zero tolerance approach to bullying.”

He said an investigation by employment solicitors during his time in Hull had found “no case to answer”. “My hope now is that a line can be drawn under this issue allowing me to continue to do the best I can… in my current role,” he added.

A spokesman for the CQC, which has responsibility for ensuring the fit and proper person regulations are applied, said: “We did consider the allegations under the fit and proper persons process, but came to the conclusion there was not a breach of the regulations.”

He said CQC’s role was to ensure trusts “have appropriate processes in place to ensure that directors or equivalents are ‘fit and proper’… not to investigate or pass a judgement on the fitness of an individual director – this falls to their employer”.

The next CQC inspection of Princess Alexandra will look again at implementation of the fit and proper person’s regulation.

The DH said it would respond to Ms Johnson’s letter “in due course”.

Fit and proper person regulation guidance

An article by Ridouts lawyers for HSJ earlier this year said that while CQC guidance on the regulation says it will not investigate individuals, it also “make[s] it very clear that there will be some circumstances where the CQC takes action because it is not confident in the decision reached by a trust”.

HSJ has not identified other individuals subject to complaints under the fit and proper person test because there is not a clear, transparent process for when individuals are investigated and named.

We have named Mr Morley because Mr Hunt’s letter states clearly that regulators have “concluded that he was a fit and proper person”.

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