Hospital whistleblower ousted from top job over cancer scandal wins £1.2m compensation
A hospital chief executive who was unfairly sacked for whistleblowing has won £1.2million compensation. John Watkinson said the ruling exposed bullying in the NHS and a ‘readiness to ride roughshod over public concerns’.
He had opposed plans to move cancer services outside his county, and was dismissed when it emerged he was about to go public with legal advice which suggested the transfer was unlawful without a public inquiry.
Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust said Mr Watkinson was sacked after a highly critical review of his leadership which claimed the trust was heading for ‘corporate failure’.
But an employment tribunal found he was fired because he was about to blow the whistle and was highly critical of the trust and the Strategic Health Authority. It said many witnesses from the trust were ‘unable or unwilling to give straightforward answers to simple questions’.
Mr Watkinson, 55, from Truro, said he was ‘over the moon’ at the ruling, which had ‘lifted the lid on many distasteful aspects of the NHS in the South West’. He added: ‘It has revealed a bullying culture and a readiness to ride roughshod over public concerns.
‘This judgment shows that my treatment was unfair and restores my good name and reputation. It cannot however give me back my career in the NHS for which I have worked for over 35 years.’ He joined the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust in January 2007 when it was regarded as one of the worst trusts in the country and struggling with a £56million deficit.
Thousands of patients had taken to the streets to protest against hospital closures, but Mr Watkinson won over campaigners by quashing rumours that West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance was to close and axing plans to make widespread redundancies.
Many of his supporters believed Mr Watkinson’s determination to lobby against plans for specialist upper gastrointestinal cancer services to move out of Cornwall to neighbouring Devon sealed his fate.
The proposals also prompted the resignation of former trust chairman Peter Davis. The Exeter tribunal ruled in May that Mr Watkinson’s sacking had been ‘substantively unfair’ after a three-week hearing. It awarded him £67,250 at the time after the trust admitted it had failed to follow proper procedures in his dismissal.
The £1.2million compensation was announced last week and is subject to appeal. The trust refused to comment.
Last month the Independent Reconfiguration Panel approved the transfer of cancer services out of Cornwall from the Royal Truro Hospital to Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, saying it was in patients’ best interests because it would ensure the highest quality of care.
The move was also backed by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.
Three babies die as superbugs hit leading NHS hospital’s neonatal unit
Three newborn babies died and 12 more were infected during a superbug outbreak at a leading neonatal unit. The babies, who were all under three months old, were being treated in a state-of-the-art intensive care unit at University College hospital, London.
Records of an emergency meeting show that one premature infant died from a bacterial infection that proved impervious to the antibiotic normally used. Antibiotic-resistant bugs were found in the blood of two others who died from complications related to their prematurity.
A fourth baby was found to have an infection resistant to gentamycin, the antibiotic of choice for very premature infants, but has recovered and gone home. Another nine babies were found to be carrying bugs resistant to gentamycin.
All the germs were ‘gram negative bacteria’ – a family of bugs including e.coli that is increasingly difficult to treat. Two babies were carrying other infections, including MRSA, it is believed.
Minutes of the meeting at the hospital on August 10 said the number of cases of gram negative bacteria had promoted a ‘heightened level of concern’.
The unit, which treats some of the country’s most vulnerable babies, has undergone a deep clean and no further cases have been reported.
Doctors have warned that antibiotic resistant gram negative bugs could ‘be the next MRSA’. Like MRSA, they thrive in hospitals and are very hard to treat.
Microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington said they often prove the ‘final straw’ for extremely sick babies being kept alive by intravenous lines, ventilators and other equipment. He said: ‘These bugs are good at hanging around in the environment. The babies are pretty vulnerable anyway and to have one of these bugs and for it to be antibiotic resistant is the paediatrician’s nightmare. ‘Obviously, it is a nightmare for the parents as well.’
A hospital spokesman said: ‘Development of antibiotic resistance is unfortunately a common occurrence for all neonatal units, even more so in units such as ours which care for the most premature babies. ‘During July we became concerned because we found particular bacteria on routine surveillance (gentamycin-resistant gram negative organisms). ‘We responded accordingly, including increased cleaning and changing our routine antibiotics to those which we knew would kill these organisms.’
A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency (HPA), which was drafted in to advise on the outbreak, said: ‘The HPA’s support has included DNA “fingerprinting” of bacteria to identify the different strains, and investigation of antibiotic resistance. ‘We are also providing advice to the hospital on infection control measures and antibiotic therapy.’
Many superbugs are resistant to all but one or two antibiotics, and with resistance growing all the time, some scientists predict a ‘medical apocalypse’ in which hospital bugs will be completely untreatable. Development costs of up to £1billion mean that just two new families of antibiotics have come on to the market in the last 30 years.
How thousands of British welfare housing units go to foreigners
Amid chronic shortages of housing for Brits
Thousands of Eastern European citizens are given council houses every year, leapfrogging millions of Britons languishing for years on waiting lists. The Daily Mail can reveal that last year some 4,000 homes were allocated to applicants from countries which have recently become part of the European Union, such as Lithuania and Poland.
Thousands more go to other European migrants and others without British citizenship even though the waiting list for social housing stands at 1.8million, with the average wait lasting more than six years.
Helena Horvatova is grateful for her council house. Her only complaint is that it has just three bedrooms for herself, her husband and their seven children. The 27-year-old was allocated the property by Peterborough council in March, days after the family arrived from the Czech Republic. Her 29-year-old husband does not work.
Their youngest child, born six months ago, is named Kevin. ‘It is a very British name,’ Mrs Horvatova said. ‘We want him to grow up British. ‘We came to Britain because we wanted a better life for all our children.’
She added: ‘My husband is claiming the Jobseekers’ Allowance. Back in our country he was a school cleaner, but in Peterborough they say there are no vacancies. ‘Our oldest boy has to go to school five miles away. The schools nearby are full of children who came to Peterborough before us.’ At least 10,000 eastern European immigrants have arrived in the city since the EU expanded its borders six years ago.
Now the Coalition has pledged to let British people jump the queue. Social housing allocation has previously been entirely ‘needs based’. Councils will now be free to acknowledge ‘local connections’ in their policies.
Housing minister Grant Shapps said: ‘It causes a great deal of concern and is very problematic for social cohesion when people find they aren’t provided with any preference when they are actually in the area they have lived in for a very long time.
‘People who have made contributions to the system deserve to benefit from the system.’
The move was welcomed by Edward Lister, the Tory leader of Wandsworth council in South London. He said: ‘We want to give a measure of priority to local residents. It builds stability in the community and keeps families together.’
No fewer than 310,000 council and housing association homes – around one in 12 – are now headed by someone who is not a UK citizen.
Some towns claim they are being overwhelmed by immigration from eastern Europe, putting pressure on hospitals and schools.
Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, said: ‘Immigration from Eastern Europe is putting a massive strain on local authorities, especially at a time when everyone is having to cut costs. ‘It helps build up resentment that otherwise wouldn’t exist. ‘It is not the fault of the people who are offered these homes, it is the fault of the system.’
The shortage of social housing has become a hot political issue in recent weeks, with David Cameron suggesting ending the right to council housing for life as a way to make more homes available.
He said it was wrong that tenants should be able to keep state-subsidised homes if they get a well-paid job when others were in need.
Figures seen by the Daily Mail show that in 2008/09, at least 3,350 homes were given to new tenants from countries which have recently joined the European Union.
The figures are collated by the Continuous Recording of Lettings and Sales in Social Housing in England, a body funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
But Richard Capie, policy director of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: ‘It is likely that only a small proportion of these are new migrants.
‘Most of these lettings are likely to be to long-standing residents of the UK who have kept their foreign nationalities.’
Allow private firms to run British State schools, says regulator
Private companies should be allowed to take over the running of state schools, the outgoing chairman of Ofsted has said. Zenna Atkins praised the Government’s free schools policy, which allows parents and charities to run state schools, but urged ministers to go further by extending that right to profitmaking firms.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Miss Atkins, who has left her job to run the British arm of GEMS Education, an independent schools chain, said that state schools could also improve exam results and save money by learning new techniques from the private sector.
It came as figures from the Department for Education showed that academies, many of which have corporate sponsors, improved their performance at three times the national average in last week’s GCSE results.
Academies, which the Coalition plan to expand greatly in number, reported a seven per cent increase in the number of pupils gaining five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths, compared with the national average of 2.5 per cent.
Miss Atkins said: “At the moment the constraining factor is the fact that academies, free schools and schools that are state funded need to be run by charitable trusts or by the state itself and I think there is an opportunity to expand and look at the role that the private sector can play.
“Currently the private sector, if you’re running a school, has to set up a charitable vehicle to do that and that seems to be an unnecessary level of bureaucracy. “A lot of countries are trying to open up the market so that increasing numbers of schools operators can get involved in the delivery of schools.
“At the moment in the UK that is being opened up with quite a progressive policy by Michael Gove (the Education Secretary) and his team but I think that doesn’t necessarily need to stop with the charitable sector.”
Miss Atkins said the Coalition’s free schools, which will be free from local authority control, would benefit from the help of private companies. “It’s a daunting thing for a group of parents and they will need support and assistance in doing that,” she said.
“The Government can offer a lot of practical guidance and support going through the process. They don’t offer the practical guidance and support in how you actually run the school. “I think parents are looking for a greater degree of support in that.”
She added: “Schools tend not to be run in a businesslike fashion. And that is everything from the management information to basic systems, processes, back office.”
Using better systems could help more children pass exams with improved grades, she said, and finances in the education sector could also benefit from corporate expertise.
She insisted that new school premises could be constructed from existing funds despite Mr Gove’s decision to scrap 715 projects in the building programme which was known as Building Schools for the Future. “I think it’s perfectly possible within existing funding formulas to run schools more efficiently. Therefore, you can afford to service capital and you can afford the school that you aspired to get while Building Schools for the Future existed,” she said.
Miss Atkins also insisted she was unaware of the phenomenon of parents who opportunistically begin attending church in order to win places for their children at oversubscribed church-run schools. The practice has even led the Church of England to introduce a system to evaluate how often parents worship, to help prioritise admissions.
Asked if she had a view on the trend, Miss Atkins said: “As far as I’m aware Ofsted haven’t got any subject matter that shows that has happened. “You are probably better qualified about it than I am.”
Her remarks come despite evidence from different denominations about parents joining congregations in a bid to secure school places.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the then Archbishop of Westminster and leader of the 4.5 million Catholics in England and Wales, told this newspaper in 2008 that he did not condemn parents who misrepresented their religion. “I wouldn’t want to judge parents who pretend to have a faith to get their children into school,” he said. “They’d do anything for the good of their children.”
In 2007, the numbers of families doing so led the Church of England to set out three tiers which describe a prospective parent’s relationship with the sponsoring church.
Families who worshipped twice a month would be regarded as “at the heart of the church” and therefore their children may be more likely to be awarded priority places. Less frequent worship would lead to an applicant being regarded as “attached to the church” or “known to the church”, the guidance said.
Pesky genes overturn the conventional wisdom again
A man’s higher risk of heart attacks can be down to his genes, rather than lifestyle
SCIENTISTS have found a genetic explanation for why men are more likely than women to suffer heart attacks and strokes.
The British team found a cluster of genetic variants on the male sex chromosome that puts carriers at an increased risk of heart disease.
Previously, the difference between the rate of heart disease for men and women was attributed to men being more likely to have “high-risk” lifestyles – by smoking, for example – and to the protective effect on the heart of the female hormone oestrogen.
The latest study, presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Stockholm, indicates that men who carry a set of genes – the I-haplogroup – on their Y chromosome are at 55 per cent greater risk of heart disease.
“We’re very familiar with this difference between men and women but it has been unclear whether it is to do with lifestyle, hormones or whether there is a genetic origin,” said Nilesh Samani, Professor of Cardiology at Britain’s University of Leicester and the lead author.
The finding also provides a tantalising explanation for why northern Europeans tend to be at greater risk of heart disease than their Mediterranean counterparts. The I-haplogroup is most prevalent in northern, central and eastern Europe, suggesting that genetics as well as a diet and lifestyle may play a role.
In future, doctors could take into account this risk factor, alongside cholesterol and blood pressure, to help identify those individuals at greatest risk. “As a man I would want to have this test,” said George Kassianos, a GP with a special interest in cardiology, based in Berkshire in England. “As a doctor, if someone was already at risk and they had these gene variants as well, I could put them on statins sooner.”
The scientists behind the study said that it would be necessary to establish the mechanism by which the genetic variants increased a person’s risk before pre-emptive genetic tests would be clinically useful.
However, they cautioned that direct-to-consumer testing companies were likely to jump on the findings and add the I-haplogroup to the portfolio of risk factors that could be disclosed through personal genetic tests. “They’re giving out information that we don’t yet understand properly, let alone know what to do about,” said Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study.
While women have two X chromosomes, men have one X and one Y, and the Y is always inherited from their fathers. As it is never paired with a partner, it escapes a process called recombination that shuffles the code of every other chromosome in each new individual. It is thus transmitted almost intact in the male line from generation to generation, altered only by rare spontaneous mutations.
These mutations can be used to identify categories of Y chromosome, known as haplogroups. Men from the same haplogroup must have shared a common male ancestor in the past. The I-haplogroup can be traced back to the Gravettian culture, which arrived in Europe from the Middle East about 25,000 years ago.
In the study, 3,000 males were tested, including 1,295 with heart disease. Those carrying the I-haplogroup variant had a 55 per cent higher risk of the disease. The association was not explained by traditional risk factors such as cholesterol, high blood pressure or smoking. “This study could explain to a large degree what predisposes men to heart disease,” Professor Weissberg said.
The scientists are working to identify the specific genes involved and the biological mechanisms by which they increase risk. Studies are also planned using data from other European countries to determine the extent to which the I-haplogroup explains the lower incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries.
There is a big new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up — on his usual vastly “incorrect” themes of race, genes, IQ etc.