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From Nowhere to Nowhere: A hopeless CEO situation

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The appointment of a new CEO at NSFT has disheartened our members. ‘We are doomed” said one message to us. Our campaign has been highlighting unsafe mental health services at NSFT for nearly eight years. Fundamentally, things got into this mess, and have gone from bad to worse, because of poor leadership. You don’t have to take our word for it, the CQC have flagged up poor leadership and management every time they visit. For years NSFT have been in ‘special measures’. The only special or remarkable thing seems to be that the CQC and NHSE&I continue to let NSFT ‘get away with it’.

Our members have hoped for a senior leadership team that have the capability to work out where the problem lies, and have the courage to address it. Instead of promoting in-house they would be better to ruthlessly cut back on the numbers of people in management non-jobs. The leadership team are ‘supported’ by too many mediocre managers who lack the clinical skills or integrity to change the toxic culture. They attend endless meetings and biscuit dunk away without anything improving. Heading up this comms heavy bevvy of bureaucrats are a series of CEOs and the elusive soon-to-move-on Board Chair. CEOs and Chairs set the tone of an organisation and they need to be able inspire the confidence of patients, carers, staff, and the public.

A few CEOs ago, the leadership team headed by Michael Scott and Gary Page led NSFT from ‘inadequate’ to ‘inadequate’. Beds closed, community services were slashed, staff were made redundant. Unsurprisingly, the out of area bed use soared and the deaths increased. Our campaign was founded in response to this disaster. But now we look fondly on these halcyon days.

In terms of improvements, things were going nowhere when the ELFT ‘A Team’ (headed by Jonathan Warren and Marie Gabriel) arrived at NSFT to show us how things should be done. NSFT was supposedly going to emulate the good practice at ELFT and bring the trust swiftly out of special measures. Instead they took the trust from nowhere to nowhere ‘improvement journey’.

Jonathan Warren was a disappointment. But we had hope that the next CEO might have some gumption. Those hopes were dashed when Gabriel announced her delight when her ELFT buddy, Mason Fitzgerald, was appointed as CEO. We had been repeatedly questioning Fitzgerald’s capability and integrity. Following an investigation by BBC Look East, it transpired Fitzgerald’s qualifications were false. Instead of taking up his appointment, he shuffled back to ELFT and an interim CEO, Adam Morris, bundled onto the scene. We have already reported that instead of engaging with campaigners he burrowed into the fortifications created by comms  and the fat cats at Hellesdon Towers. As a group, we decided Morris was just a bridge from nowhere to who-knows-where, so we would sit it out for the next CEO to arrive.

Stuart Richardson has proved that he is hostile to people who raise concerns. He sent a letter threatening legal action to the late Terry O’Shea (when he was dying) so forgive us if we don’t trust him. It was a dark day for Norfolk and Suffolk when we heard yesterday he had been appointed as the next CEO of NSFT. Gabriel declared her delight in his appointment. Messages flooded in to us from people telling us who devastated they are about this.

A baffled carer said: “How can NSFT appoint someone who has been part of a 4 year no improvement leadership team?” Good question.

As one member of NSFT staff said: “The clique are protecting the clique. Surely new talent was needed after year on year of failure? Surely something needs to change? Or rather some people need to be changed?” Exactly.

On Twitter, this comment was made to us: “Once you damage an organisation – even a major public health provider- by half-arsed and amateurish ‘reorganisations’ which leave it unable to carry out its core competencies, no one wants to lead it. It then becomes an unvirtuous circle of failure.”

An unvirtuous circle of failure. From Thomas through to Richardson, there has been an unbroken series of leadership failures that are taking us nowhere. A circle of arrogance, opacity, and inertia.

Then today we had a timely reminder that an endorsement from Gabriel is not worth anything. Look East reported that Fitzgerald has been dismissed from ELFT because the allegations of false qualifications were founded https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-57748553. NSFT stood by their ‘robust’ recruitment processes. These same robust processes led to Richardson’s promotion. We have no faith that. One member described Richardson’s rise to the top as an example of ”cesspool theory”.

We might be on a road to nowhere from nowhere – which feels a hopeless situation – but we are not giving up. Our members comprise people who are –  unwell but cannot access a service, desperate carers who are frightened for their loved ones, demoralised staff, and broken-hearted bereaved relatives. We will continue to campaign for safe, caring and effective mental health services.  

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