Embattled NHS trust boss quits role but will keep salary and benefits in new job

The outgoing boss of the heavily-criticised Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust is still to be employed by the organisation in a new role – pulling in the same pay and benefits of around £240,000 a year.

Katrina Percy announced her decision to stand aside as chief executive but she is to stay on as a strategic adviser, a trust spokeswoman said.

Ms Percy will be “providing strategic advice to local GP leaders” and her salary will not change, the spokeswoman added.

Last year, Ms Percy earned a salary of at least £185,000 plus at least £52,500 in pension-related benefits.

Ms Percy said she was stepping aside from the top job after her position became “untenable”.

The trust has been the subject of independent government reviews since it was revealed it failed to investigate the unexpected deaths of hundreds of its patients between 2011 and 2015.

In a statement, Ms Percy said: “I have reflected on the effect the ongoing personal media attention has had on staff and patients and have come to the conclusion that this has made my role untenable.

“I have therefore come to the difficult decision to step down from my role as chief executive after nine years.

“I am delighted to be taking on an alternative role, providing strategic advice to local GP leaders as they work with others to transform the way in which health services are delivered across Hampshire, and I feel that now is the right time to take on that new challenge.

“I know, and understand, that many will say I should have stepped down sooner given the very public concerns which have been raised in the past months. I stayed on as I firmly believed it was my responsibility to oversee the necessary improvements and to continue the ground breaking work we have begun with GPs to transform care for our patients.”

The Trust said Julie Dawes, who joined the organisation in May as director of nursing and quality, is now acting as interim chief executive.

Tim Smart, interim chairman of the Trust, added: “Katrina has come to the conclusion that due to the significant focus on her as an individual, it is in the best interests of the Trust, patients and staff for her to step down. I have agreed, on the basis that her position has become untenable because of ongoing personal media attention.

“Katrina has ensured that Southern Health is now working more closely with other health and care organisations in the region to provide more joined up care, so more people receive support at the right time and place.”

Southern has been under intense scrutiny following the deaths of hundreds of patients, including 18-year-old Connor Sparrowhawk who died in 2013.

In October, a jury inquest ruled that neglect contributed to the death of Mr Sparrowhawk, who drowned after an epileptic seizure at Slade House in Headington, Oxfordshire.

But in April, inspectors concluded that the trust was still failing to protect patients from risk of harm.

Care Quality Commission inspectors found that robust arrangements to probe incidents, including deaths, had not been put in place, resulting in “missed opportunities” to prevent similar events.

In December, an independent investigation found Southern Health had failed to probe the deaths of hundreds of people since 2011.

Southern Health is a mental health trust providing services to 45,000 people across Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

It employs around 9,000 staff who work from over 200 sites, including community hospitals, health centres, inpatient units and social care services.

Commenting on the news, Liberal Democrat Health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “Under her watch, patients and families were fatally let down by a rotten culture where the unexplained deaths of more than a thousand vulnerable people with learning disabilities, autism and other mental health conditions were not properly investigated.

“There was a failure to learn lessons despite repeated warnings, and this recklessness ultimately cost lives. But rather than taking responsibility and doing the honourable thing by stepping down, Katrina Percy continued to put her own interests before the public interest.

“Reports that she will move into another well-paid job advising GPs on strategy are deeply concerning, and will aggravate the sense of injustice felt by the families of those who lost their lives.

“However, I sincerely hope that new leadership will help to restore accountability and start to rebuild public trust in Southern Health.”

A statement on the #JusticeforLB website, which is partly run by Mr Sparrowhawk’s mother, Dr Sara Ryan, said: “Katrina Percy’s resignation is long overdue and directly relates to the failings identified by repeated CQC inspections and the Mazars independent review of (non) investigations into deaths in mental health and learning disability services at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.

“This whole sorry episode has shone an important light on peculiar workings at senior NHS levels around regulation, accountability and enforcement. It also demonstrates that candour and transparency remain woefully lacking in 2016.

“We wish Julie Dawes the very best in her interim role as CEO and hope that a new executive team can make necessary changes to enable staff across the organisation to provide excellent, patient-centred care and support.”

Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest, which worked with the family of Mr Sparrowhawk, said: “The CEO and board presided over dangerous systems and practices that cost lives.

“Despite repeated warnings there was a failure to act. Those patients and families affected have a right to be justifiably angered that this resignation is not an acceptance of responsibility for systemic failings but further denial and obfuscation by blaming ‘media attention’.

“The shameful events at Southern Health raise serious concerns about the current systems of accountability, regulation and learning within the NHS.”

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