Classic example of bullying yesterday … not towards staff (who are probably used to it anyway) but towards Governors and the public who had the temerity to ask difficult questions to Interim Chairman, Tim ‘bovver boy’ Smart yesterday.
So even before the Bored Meeting [typo intended] this week, Southern Health threatened to remove the four governors prepared to speak up for patients and families.
In this context, it was rank hypocrisy for Smart to tell the Board that families would give their views through the Council of Governors. Yet when they tried to gain the views of families, he tried to stop them from doing so and threatened to remove them.
For brevity, here is the text of a letter from Peter Bell (a rebel governor) to Smart dated 24 May 2016. (For brevity courtesies removed and some paragraphs combined.)
“I would like to raise two items immediately with you following today’s meeting:
- Exclusion of Governors from Part 2 of the board meeting
At today’s meeting, having made an initial statement concerning the governance practices you were going to adopt, which included openness and transparency, you then reversed the decision of the previous chair, Mike Petter, which was to allow the governors access to copies of the Part 2 board papers and to be invited to observe the Part 2 meeting.
This action was taken by the previous chair so that there was an independent view from the governors on whether items were properly taken in Part 2 of the meeting and representations and challenge could be made as to the appropriateness of excluding press and public from particular items or alternatively suggestions made as to how the larger part of the discussion and decision could be taken in public session with only those essential parts of the report which contained confidential information discussed behind closed doors.
Indeed, following the last board meeting I made representations to the chair that a large part of the discussion that I had witnessed could more properly have taken place in public and I believe that the former chair was largely in agreement with those observations.
Your decision to reverse the brave decision to invite governors to observe Part 2 on the basis that confidentiality of the Part 2 papers and/or discussions had been breached would appear to be a retrograde step in the move towards openness and transparency.
Could I ask if you are able to provide any clarification on the reason that you gave – in particular, what confidential information has been disclosed, at which meeting was that information tabled or discussed and what can you tell me about your investigations in to who it was that is alleged to have made the disclosure?
As I recall, there were only two members of the Council of Governors who witnessed the last Part 2 board meeting (although, as you know, my short term memory is faulty, so I have little recall of that meeting). So the potential Governors who could possibly have disclosed confidential information are few in number. Accordingly, I would ask that you provide any evidence that you do have of this breach of confidentiality so that the person(s) suspected of this breach could be asked to answer the allegations.
- Complaints raised with you concerning my conduct as a governor
During the first break, you advised me that you had received a number of complaints concerning my conduct. When I indicated that this did not surprise me, you replied that I should as it was my fellows (presumably you mean fellow governors). You also advised me that you were taking legal advice on the situation.
You will be aware that this matter is covered in the constitution, standing orders and code of conduct and I would ask that you ensure that you comply with the constitution and put any complaints in writing to me so that I could answer them. I would expect this to be done promptly.
I was initially heartened at your statements at the beginning of the meeting concerning the conduct of meetings and the governance standards you expected. However, almost immediately you failed to ensure that speakers announced themselves as you had requested and regrettably I was obliged to bring this to your attention.
Then there was the question of the retrograde step of closing Part 2 meetings. I note that you justify this on the basis that it is common elsewhere. Commonality and the right thing are not necessarily one and the same. I forget the number of times that as a compliance officer a failure to follow best practice has been justified by – it has always been done this way or everyone else does it this way.
My aspirations for this Trust are for it to become one of the best – which means examining critically what is done and I would suggest that both of the usual excuses for not changing the status quo – “it has always been this way” or “everyone else does this” – are a poor substitute for critical assessment of what is actually the best practice. In order to change then the errors of the past do not need to be repeated. If things did not work in the past, simply repeating them is unlikely to provide the changes needed to produce a step change in performance.
And finally, I have to raise concerns about your attitude towards some of the persons (both public and governors) asking questions at the end of the meeting as this did not, to my mind, comply with one of the tenets you set out at the start of the meeting – respect [CRASH’s emphasis]!
I did, as it happens, have some further questions, but your failure to adequately control the questions from the public meant that there was little opportunity for me to put them to the board in a calm, controlled manner and with the respect on both sides that you requested.
I do realise that with the press and public attention emotions can run high however in my experience (which is far more limited than yours) a firm but gentle lead from the chair can make a huge difference to the tone of the meeting. I do not think it looks good for the reputation of the Trust if the chair starts his chairmanship by ending the first public meeting in a rather intimidating fashion.
I am sure that you do not wish to be perceived as a bully as this is one of the traits that we are concerned to eliminate from the management of the Trust at all levels. [CRASH’s emphasis]
Could I ask that, difficult though I know it is, that calm and civility is maintained throughout? Preferably on both sides.
I have been asked by several people about my motives in doing what I have been doing as a member of the Trust and latterly as a Public Governor. I am more than happy to set down in writing that my only motive is to try and ensure that the Trust and all of its staff give the best service to the public that can possibly be achieved with the staff and resources available to the Trust. I have no other agenda.
I would hope that the above statement puts us both on the same side? We may perhaps differ in our approach but I hope that our aim for the Trust is aligned? I look forward to working with you over the coming months.”
To read Peter’s pre-amble and thoughts, click here.
We slightly disagree in respect of Smart’s alleged failure to adequately control questions from the public: yes, Smart was the cause but by his refusal to give straight answers to straight questions and his intimidating manner inflamed emotions.
Then again, Peter is the silent assassin and CRASH is CRASH! In any event – not guilty – we followed on after Peter.
And now, CRASH’s email to Smart:
“Your conduct yesterday towards governors and those asking legitimate questions yesterday was (to put it mildly) distasteful, unbecoming and intimidating. I am not alone in this perception: you should be making allies not enemies.
You should remember that people will treat you in the way that you treat them: your intimidating management style is bound to be met by a fight or flight response. The fact that you addressed me formally (against my express wishes) demonstrates you do not have a clue about the proper way of addressing patients and complainants.
Your implied threat to Peter Bell was disgraceful and your dismissal of John Green’s question unjustifiable. When I challenged you about your attitude towards Peter, you read out a written statement you made at the start of the meeting, which bore no relevance whatsoever to the point I was making. Clearly governors and patient representatives, who are prepared to stand up to you, are unwelcome.
You did not give a straight answer to a straight question – from any of us. I pose mine again (with a third added for clarity):
- Do you have a zero-tolerance policy towards Trust Directors who break the law – YES/NO.
- Do you have a zero-tolerance policy towards dishonesty by Trust Directors.” – YES/NO.
- Do you agree that dishonesty includes both deliberate dishonesty and dishonesty where directors should have known that they were being dishonest (on the principles laid down in Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee  2 All ER 118) – YES/NO.
These are three very simple questions, you don’t need a team of independent advisors to answer them. It is beyond belief that you could not give a straight answer yesterday.
I emphasise again – you do not have my consent to discuss my personal issues with any other director or officer of the Trust. You have broken patient confidentiality once and I will be discussing this with the Information Commissioner’s Office this morning so that I am fully prepared if you do so again.
I was surprised that John Beaumont had to give you a copy of Hansard 18 Apr 2012: Column 79WH – surprised because you clearly had not done your research.
I attach another recent debate, in which Southern Health was trashed – this time for breaches of data protection legislation. Please see page 4 of the Hansard chapter(
attached). On page 4, Mr Clifton-Brown notes:
“One NHS trust, which is alleged to have consistently failed to adhere to data protection principles and to have hidden its failings from NHS England. Make no mistake: concerns about the handling of patient data are very real.”
Unfortunately, Mr Clifton-Brown did not name the Trust or even the geographical area. However, I know he was talking about Southern Health.
And the first thing you do is to break patient confidentiality.”
And just for fun, the Trust’s policy on bullying is here. Perhaps Smart would like a copy!
Oh – and while we are on the subject, where was the other member of NHS [Un]-improvement’s dynamic duo yesterday – it’s [Un]-improvement] Director Alan Yates? We were looking for an image of the Invisible Man – then realised, you won’t be able to see it anyway!