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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Great Ormond Street: a hospital in serious trouble

Among the general public, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children still has a high reputation. Criticising it sometimes feels a bit like questioning the health of Prince Charles’s marriage in, say, 1985. But in the annual assessment exercise by the NHS regulator, the Care Quality Commission, its rating has declined from “excellent” first to “good” and then merely to “fair.” And in the medical profession, there are deep concerns about what has been happening at this celebrated institution.

After the hospital’s serious failings in the Baby P case, as documented at length by me and BBC London’s Tim Donovan, the respected medical journal, The Lancet, stated in a recent editorial (free but requires registration) that “if Great Ormond Street’s management team had been in Wigan they would almost certainly have departed by now. Perhaps Great Ormond Street is just too important to be seen to fail, even when a child dies.” A government minister has called on the chief executive to resign. This week’s Lancet includes a letter from a number of GOS consultants demanding an independent inquiry (as well as one from the hospital defending itself.)

Increasingly, however, it is clear that the hospital’s problems are wider than those exposed by Baby P. My story in today’s paper starts:

“The crisis at the world’s most famous children’s hospital has been laid bare by damning leaked documents.

“In emails, letters and secret internal reports, consultants at Great Ormond Street Hospital say that vital medical services have been “destroyed,” patient safety is “at risk” and they have been “harassed and targeted” by management for raising their concerns.

“In one of the leaked letters, Dr Cathy Owens, one of the world’s most eminent child radiologists and herself a Great Ormond Street consultant, says there is a “culture of fear” in the hospital with “malicious and vexatious targeting” of doctors who complain.

“She says her department is in a “dire situation” after steep job cuts and a number of experienced consultants being forced from their posts. Dr Owens is the current general secretary, and former president, of the European Society of Paediatric Radiology.”

You will also see Christine Hall, emeritus professor at Great Ormond Street and a former consultant at the hospital, quoted as saying that “management at the hospital has failed on all levels from the top down…I speak to other clinicians around the country, and they all ask: what is going on there?”

Read the whole thing here.

Lutfur Rahman: the Bob Lambert fantasy version

One aspect of Robert Lambert’s richly comic “Islamophobia” report that I didn’t cover in my post yesterday is its chapter on my Channel 4 Dispatches programme about the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) and Tower Hamlets. The chapter is written by someone who, the report says, “has asked to remain anonymous on this occasion.” Wisely, I think.

The argument of my nameless critic is that I and my witnesses have got it all wrong. Lutfur Rahman, the council leader (now mayor) in Tower Hamlets, wasn’t dumped by Labour because of his close links with the IFE. It was instead, apparently, because the “white New Labour elite” wanted to “systematically marginalise” the Bangladeshi community; and because Lutfur’s “brand of left-wing populism represented a direct threat to the established hierarchy within Tower Hamlets Labour Party.”

As Ted Jeory, former deputy editor of the local newspaper, points out, this is a blatant rewriting of history. Jeory covered the council closely and often saw Lutfur in action. Rahman was in fact, he says, “one of Labour’s main ringleaders against Respect’s populist Left-wing policies and motions in the council chamber.” As for the charge of racism by the “New Labour elite,” Lutfur’s principal opponent, Helal Abbas, is himself a Bangladeshi.

Jeory also describes the Lambert report’s dishonesty over one of Lutfur’s most discreditable episodes – his hiring of Lutfur Ali, an ill-qualified CV cheat with close links to the IFE, as the council’s assistant chief executive, followed by his effective sacking of Tower Hamlets’ widely-respected chief executive, Martin Smith. In Lambert-land, this is presented as “by no means extraordinary,” a statement described by Jeory as “inaccurate and disingenuous in the extreme.”

My own favourite bit of this chapter is the anonymous author’s lip-trembling outrage at Labour’s decision to put the local party into “special measures” – something amply justified by the extraordinary movements in its membership, which rose by 110 per cent in a matter of months and saw dozens of new “members” joining on the same day, sometimes up to eight of them in a single two-bedroom flat. Many of the new members had the same names as people we can link to the IFE. “Special measures” meant that such “members” no longer had a say in selecting Labour’s council candidates.

To our bashful writer, this was the Tower Hamlets equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. “Special measures have the same essential characteristics as a so-called ‘state of emergency,’ whereby state authorities are free to override the law and even the constitution in the interests of national security,” he says. “This culture of impunity has enabled a series of abuses.”

The sheer silliness and lack of proportion here is striking. The Labour Party constitution gives head office the perfect right to intervene if it suspects manipulation or corruption. On behalf of the dark forces of neo-con evil which I am said to represent, I hereby promise that Lutfur Rahman will not be assassinated by an unmanned CIA drone or bundled off in an orange jumpsuit.

Almost as stupid is the claim, earlier in the report, that the Dispatches investigation prompted an upsurge of “intimidation” in Tower Hamlets by the English Defence League. What actually happened is that fifteen members of the EDL paid a visit to a local pub, and an even smaller number subsequently came back to the same pub. A planned demonstration by the group never took place. To my knowledge, there has not been even one single incident of violence or intimidation against the East London Mosque as a result of my film; I’m quite sure the mosque would have let us all know if there had been.

From the Islamists’ point of view the real problem, of course, with Labour’s behaviour in Tower Hamlets is that it is pushing them out of the party they so carefully infiltrated. Islamists still, through Lutfur, exercise power in the borough – but only as outcast independents with no good future in front of them. I can quite understand why our anonymous author isn’t happy about that.

Great Ormond Street: the turmoil continues

If a large number of your own senior staff signed a letter of no confidence in you, most people would probably throw in the towel. But Jane Collins, the besieged boss of Great Ormond Street Hospital, is digging in. After at least 40 of her full-time, NHS-employed consultants signed a letter asking her to quit – as I reported at the weekend – the Great Ormond Street PR machine has announced the existence of a counter-letter of support: signed, they say, by 122 consultants. The chairman, Baroness Blackstone, has expressed her “complete support” for Ms Collins.

The problem, my hospital snouts tell me, is that many of Ms Collins’ 122 supporters are not in fact full-time consultants at the hospital, or employed by the NHS. Some are honorary appointees; others do little or no work for Great Ormond Street; others do little or no NHS work; others are essentially academics. Great Ormond Street has sometimes been dishonest in the past, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re spinning now.

Even if all the 122 were full-time NHS consultants, it is still difficult to see how the chief executive can continue after losing the confidence of so substantial a minority of her working senior staff.

There is an important meeting next week. The ball is now with the original 40 – if they are to succeed in their declared intention, they need to press forward and not lose their nerve. Otherwise the hospital could end up in a significantly worse position than it already is, with a disliked chief executive surviving indefinitely amid continuing disaffection and turmoil.