A tale of two women


Ursula Ward

cropped 3 Katrina structure

Katrina Percy


Which of these is the most courageous and honourable Chief Executive of an NHS Trust?   



As we were discussing Southern Health with Suella Fernades MP and the Minister for Community and Social Care (Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP) in Parliament on 8 June 2016, little did we know of the scandal erupting at Hampshire’s Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, following a critical CQC inspection in February and March.

The CQC described the emergency department as “chaotic” with an “unacceptable” risk to patients. It gave the hospital an overall rating of “inadequate“. However, although patients were clearly at risk, there is no reference to actual harm or death.

In urgent situations, the CQC brings failings to hospitals’ attention without awaiting formal publication of a report. Indeed, ‘The [Portsmouth] News‘ first reported the CQC’s concerns on 28 April 2016.

The then-Chief Executive, Ursula Ward resigned on 27 May 2016, so by the time the story hit the public domain:

  1. The Chief Executive had taken full responsibility for the Trust’s failings and had resigned.
  2. The interim Chief Executive, Tim Powell acknowledged that it was appropriate for the Chief Executive (the Accountable Officer) to leave.
  3. Tim Powell went on to confirm that as Interim Chief Executive he was now Accountable Officer and accepted full responsibility for putting things right.

As a result, Tim Powell was able to reassure the public:

“We fully accept the inspector’s findings and … we are determined to ensure that by … next winter, our service will be better.”

JOB DONE – or rather started!

This is textbook crisis management – signal detection (listen for alarm bells); preparation and prevention (plan for when the crisis breaks); containment and damage control (the Chief Executive has resigned already); and business recovery and learning starts even before the formal report is published.

One of the five leadership competencies in a crisis is to make wise, rapid decisions and take courageous action.

Compare this with Southern Health – alarm bells ignored; no plan in place when the crisis broke (other than for Katrina Percy to cover her back); no containment or damage control; business recovery has not even started six months later; decisions (or lack of them) have deepened the crisis; and no-one has had the courage to make wise and rapid decisions, which everyone – apart from the Board – knows are necessary.


Leadership & patient care:

The NHS Leadership Academy repeatedly refers to the link between leadership and patient care:

“Better leadership leads to better patient care, experience and outcomes.

There’s so much evidence connecting better leadership to better patient care.

They [Francis, Berwick, Keogh and leading academic, Michael West] all make the link between good leadership and making a positive difference to patient care, care outcomes and the experience of care.”

And the Leadership Academy states the reverse:

“There is far too much evidence linking failure in leadership to failures in patient care too. In fact, getting the leadership right makes a very positive difference.

And it doesn’t happen by accident.”

In short, lousy leadership leads to lousy patient care, lousy experience and lousy outcomes. Katrina Percy – think of this when you are concentrating on publicity to protect your back. 

In this context, on 8 June 2016, Mims Davis MP reported to Parliament:

“Yesterday, Mr Smart told me that his initial view on exactly this point was that the senior executive team had a focus on dealing with Southern Health’s public relations issues, and not really on the care and quality in what was being delivered. That, simply, was why there was no change” [‘Hansard’ Volume 611 – 8 June 2016].”

Nicely put Mims.

So Mr Smart, why not suspend Katrina Percy and Lesley Stevens now, pending a full disciplinary inquiry?

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