The Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Crisis campaign have been expressing concerns about the leadership at NSFT for years. Five years of being in special measures – two of these under the leadership team from ELFT (a.k.a. the A Team) who were drafted in to ‘urgently’ sort out the problems at NSFT. Instead of modelling the strong, values-based leadership that was so desperately needed, they brought more cronyism and chaos with them. We have had enough of second rate management.
We expressed our concerns about the appointment of Mason ‘Champagne Charlie’ Fitzgerald’s appointment, as the CEO to follow on from ‘Former Professor’ Jonathan Warren, from the moment it was announced. Then the BBC revealed that Fitzgerald had seemingly falsified his qualifications. Did he have the integrity to resign? Not on your Nellie. Did NSFT react by initiating a robust and transparent response? Not really. They announced an ‘independent’ investigation and a delay in Warren’s retirement until the end of March. We all guessed the agenda would be damage limitation rather than accountability.
At our campaign meeting, earlier this week, members expressed their lack of faith in this sorry mess being resolved swiftly and openly. If he stayed at NSFT, Fitzgerald would be a CEO that did not inspire the confidence of staff and the community. If he goes, then the trust would lose both their CEO and deputy CEO by the end of March. And who would be at the helm of the sinking ship then? Either way NSFT urgently needs some oversight from monitoring and commissioning bodies to ensure that the people of Norfolk and Suffolk don’t suffer more consequences of mental health services in crisis.
As we were in the process of writing a letter to the CQC and NHS England, events overtook us. We started getting horrified messages from staff who feel that Fitzgerald and co were once more ‘getting away with it’. A ‘solution’ was found. A solution that might save the career of ‘Future Baroness’ Gabriel. Fitzgerald withdrew his application for CEO and he will ‘immediately’ resume his substantive (highly paid) post back at ELFT. They, reportedly, will continue their ‘independent’ investigation. If Fitzgerald had any integrity he would have resigned 3 weeks ago.
On the one hand, our members are relieved not to have Champagne Charlie sitting in London, earning a small fortune, and ‘leading’ the trust. It could only have gone from special measures to special measures with someone of his calibre in charge. On the other, we are very worried about what happens next. In an email to staff, (below) Future Baroness Gabriel ‘reassures’ staff that they have ‘started the process’ to appoint an interim CEO. Gabriel states that Fitzgerald had been clear in his application that he did not hold a Masters degree and that the issue lays with the ‘information submitted for inclusion into our annual reports’. In a BBC Look East report, the journalist Nikki Fox, shared that NSFT realised that Fitzgerald did not have a LMM (masters in law) in 2019 yet they did not report this. This begs the question – If they knew Fitzgerald only had a BA, but he was putting LMM on the Board papers that they sign off and return to parliament, are they implicit in his deception?
We can only conclude then that NSFT appointed a CEO in the full knowledge that he only held a BA. It was not exactly an aspirational appointment when they appointed Fitzgerald. To put this in context Band 5 newly qualified staff on low salaries are all required to have a BA or BSc. Surely, a CEO who is responsible for managing a large organisation with a multi-million budget should be educated to masters level as a minimum.
This mis-management at NSFT has gone on for too long. We have lost confidence in Marie Gabriel as chair and in NHS England who oversee NSFT. The NSFT Board and NHS England need need to work with patients, service-users, carers and our campaign to coproduce solutions. We demand a rapid turnaround in improvement to services for people in mental distress in Norfolk and Suffolk. Including the end of out of area placements, including the private hospitals in the area that continually fail CQC inspections. Our community deserves better.
We remain concerned enough to continue raising this with the CQC in writing. We feel the dire situation at NSFT has gone on for too long and clearly will not be resolving anytime soon. Therefore, we feel it is time for the MPs in our region to ensure that there is sufficient scrutiny of NSFT. Any member of our community who is concerned about the situation can write to their MP asking for their intervention. To assist people, we have drafted a template letter (below) that people can adapt. We are a grassroots campaign and so many people contact us with their concerns. Please do support your community by writing to your MP. Too many lives have been lost here. If we don’t make a noise now we will have yet another crony trousering the £175k CEO salary without delivering.
Template letter (that you can send by email or post):
Dear [insert your MPs name here]
As your constituent, I am writing to you to express my concern the way the Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Trust (NSFT) are handling the appointment of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO). NSFT has been in Special Measures for five years and urgently requires effective leadership. It is important to me that NSFT appoint a CEO that can lead them out of ‘special measures’ because [insert your reason here -for example, I am a service-user/carer/bereaved relative/member of NSFT staff/work for a mental health related organisation etc. You could include a brief description of any difficulties you have had accessing a service].
You are probably aware that there have been media reports about the successful applicant, who came to NSFT under a secondment arrangement, is reported to have falsified his qualifications on his credentials. I am aware that independent reviews of the applicant’s claims was undertaken by NSFT. In a statement, Marie Gabriel (Board Chair) said that NSFT knew the applicant only held a BA and she indicates that the issue was in incorrect information being cited on Board papers (which are sent to parliament). The prospective CEO is reported to have left NSFT with immediate effect and returned to his substantive employer (East London Foundation Trust). On page 41 of the 2019-2020 Annual Report of the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, the prospective CEO has falsely ascribed himself a major academic qualification. In the same report, on page 28, it is stated:
‘In regard to both Executive Director and senior manager contracts, notice will not be paid where there has been gross misconduct. For Executive Directors, this is also the case where they become a ‘unfit person’ in regard to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulation 2014.’
I would like assurance that public funds have not been used to ‘pay off’ in an agreement to quietly leave NSFT.
The present incumbent in the CEO post at NSFT is retiring at the end of March. There is no time to waste in appointing a CEO who is suitably qualified and experienced, and who also has the right values and personal qualities to lead the trust by example. The next CEO needs to be able to work in an open and transparent way to gain the confidence and trust of the public.
I have doubts about NSFT’s recruitment process. I therefore require reassurance that the appointments, to fill the gaps left by the CEO and deputy, will be compliant with trust policies and transparently conducted. The way this whole debacle has been handled, further reduces my confidence in the way NSFT is run. I would be grateful if you could advise me of what actions you intend to take to ensure that your constituents can feel confident that NSFT is well-led and well managed so that the services they are commissioned to deliver are safe and effective.
Copies to [you might wish to copy in Matt Hancock, Health Secretary and/or the Care Quality Commission and NHS England who are responsible for scrutinising NSFT]