Great Ormond Street tries to lie its way out of trouble

I have described in the past how Great Ormond Street Hospital has provably lied to try to counter stories about its failings in the Baby P case. The hospital employed the doctors at the Haringey child protection clinic which missed Baby Peter Connolly’s broken back.

In May 2009, I revealed that all four consultants at that clinic had warned Great Ormond Street management, in writing, a year before Baby P’s death that there was a “high risk” of a tragedy because the place was so understaffed. After my story, Great Ormond Street’s chief executive, Jane Collins, claimed that the consultants’ concerns had been “addressed at the time.

The truth, alas, is that after the consultants’ letter, GOSH reduced the number of consultant posts at the clinic still further, from four to three, and removed the consultant identified as the ringleader of the protest, Dr Kim Holt, from her job: a post to which she has still not been reinstated. By the time Baby P came to the clinic, all four of the experienced permanent consultants had been either removed, had left in disgust, or gone sick, and he was seen by an inexperienced locum. The hospital subsequently admitted that Ms Collins’ statement “could be seen as disingenuous” and removed it from its website.

In December 2009, Dr Holt told me that Great Ormond Street had offered her £120,000 to “buy her silence” – an offer she refused. In response, Great Ormond Street lied again, claiming the offer of money “took place before any specific concerns were raised by [Dr Holt] around child protection.” In fact, the offer was made eighteen months afterwards, and I’ve seen papers which prove it.

Last month, we learned that Great Ormond Street “covered up” the findings of an internal inquiry into the Baby P case, editing it to remove serious criticisms of itself before passing it on to the external “serious case review.” Great Ormond Street claims it did this on police advice. Last week, the police told the BBC that this was not true.

On Sunday, I published a report, based on leaked emails and documents, about broader failings in patient care and deep dissatisfaction by medical staff in the hospital. It included the statement that Great Ormond Street’s quality rating had been “steadily downgraded in recent years by the NHS inspectorate, the Care Quality Commission, from ‘excellent’ to ‘good’ to ‘fair.’”

In an email to staff yesterday, passed to me, Ms Collins said: “I want to correct the statement in the Telegraph that the hospital’s quality rating has been steadily downgraded. For last year, we would have been awarded ‘excellent’ had the ratings system not been abolished. Our previous rating of fair (not poor, as the Telegraph claimed) arose from long waiting times in only one specialty, where there were national capacity issues.

“Once again, I want to dispute claims that individuals are making (again, anonymously) about being “targeted” for raising patient safety issues.”

Well, if you’ve read the article you’re probably ahead of me. We never claimed that the hospital had ever rated poor. (In fact, as you might expect a hospital chief executive to know, there is no such rating – the bottom rating is “weak” – and we never claimed the hospital had rated that, either).

Two of the individuals who have been targeted were not anonymous – they were named in the piece. And as for Ms Collins’ claims that Great Ormond Street was not “steadily downgraded,” here is the evidence. “Excellent” in 2006/7 goes down to “Good” in 2007/8 and down again to “Fair” in 2008/9 (published last year, and the last available verdict before the ratings system was abolished.) Ms Collins may think she would have been back up to “excellent” by now – but the whole point of rating systems, alas, is that you can’t rate yourself.

Kim Holt is very lucky to have as her MP the superb Lynne Featherstone, who has been fighting her constituent’s corner for the last three years. The hospital has been sabre-rattling against her as well, publishing on its website a, shall we say, unsatisfactory account of its dealings over the issue. Ms Featherstone has now published her response – and she, too, accuses Great Ormond Street of “concealing” and “misleading.”

This kind of behaviour is always a deeply telling sign of an institution in real trouble. Ms Featherstone has called on Ms Collins to resign, and says that if what is known now had been known at the time, she would have gone three years ago, along with Haringey’s Sharon Shoesmith. I agree.

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