Month: August 2017

Health Scrutiny Chair should consider her position after rebuke and the County must act to restore confidence in scrutiny of NHS

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My press release:

6789739605_506f0ee322_oDevon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Chair, Councillor Sara Randall Johnson (right), should immediately consider her position following the stinging rebuke issued to her by the Council’s Standards Committee. The Council should also act to restore the credibility of Health Scrutiny, since its failure to fully scrutinise the removal community hospital beds in Honiton, Okehampton and Seaton has destroyed public confidence in its activities across a large swathe of Devon.

At its meeting on 29 August, minutes of which are published today, the Standards Committee agreed that while Cllr Randall Johnson had not broken the Members’ Code of Conduct, she should ‘be strongly reminded of the importance of the work of scrutiny committees – reinforcing the value of neutrality in scrutiny both generally and in calling the “health service” to account – and the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act.’

The call for a Scrutiny Chair to ‘be strongly reminded of the importance of the work’ of her committee, and of the value of neutrality and being seen to be even-handed and fair, is unprecedented and should lead Cllr Randall Johnson to immediately consider her position. There is no public confidence that she will lead the committee to carry out full and impartial scrutiny of NHS decision-making.

Effects on the Council’s reputation 

The Standards Committee also ‘accepts that the events of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting on 25 July 2017 may not reflect well on individual Members or upon the Council as a whole, and further recognises that the perception gained by persons present at the meeting or subsequently viewing the webcast is not that which would have been desired’.

This stark acknowledgement of the damage done to Devon County Council’s reputation also requires early action by the Council to reassure the public that the Committee will do its job properly in future and protect the NHS in Devon.

The Scrutiny Committee ignored the views of local communities and their representatives and has allowed the CCG to get away with damaging cuts. The Council must now consider how to restore people’s faith that it will protect all our community hospitals in the future. I shall ensure that this is discussed when the Council meets on 5th October.

Sara Randall Johnson exonerated of breach of rules but reminded of ‘the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act’

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I’m posting extracts from the minutes of Devon County Council’s Standards Committee yesterday, concerning the allegations about Cllr Sara Randall Johnson’s Chairmanship of the Health Scrutiny Committee’s special meeting about the Seaton, Honiton and Okehampton hospital beds – mostly without comment,  because I haven’t yet had time to fully absorb them or to decide with colleagues how to respond. One brief comment at the end, though …

The resolution, unanimously agreed, states

(a) that the Investigating Officer’s Report be acknowledged and endorsed as an exhaustive and thorough piece of work;

(b) that the Committee finds that the allegations are not proven and that there has not been any breach of the Code of Conduct or that they disclose any sufficiently serious potential breach that might warrant punitive action or sanction or that the subject member failed to apply one or more of the Principles of Public Life;

(c) that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the subject member failed to adhere to the Code of Conduct or had failed to treat others with respect or had failed to act in the public interest or had acted improperly or did not have regard to the relevant facts before taking part in any decision making process as alleged, specifically, in relation to paragraphs 4 and 5(a), (c), (d), (g) and (h) of the Code and that that complaints cannot therefore be upheld;

(d) that, notwithstanding the above, the Committee accepts that the events of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting on 25 July 2017 may not reflect well on individual Members or upon the Council as a whole, and further recognises that the perception gained by persons present at the meeting or subsequently viewing the webcast is not that which would have been desired: Group Leaders should therefore be asked to remind Members of the need to conduct themselves appropriately and respectfully at all times;

(e) that, additionally, the subject member be strongly reminded of the importance of the work of scrutiny committees – reinforcing the value of neutrality in scrutiny both generally and in calling the ‘health service’ to account – and the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act; the difference between perception and reality being not easily countered;

(f) that in light also of the evident lack of awareness of some Members of the procedures to be followed at meetings, further training be offered (i) to Members on the rules of debate including procedures relating to the moving of motions and amendments and voting at committee meetings and to remind them that assistance was available through the Council’s Democratic Services & Scrutiny Secretariat to help them in ensuring consideration of any matter by a Committee and in drafting motions or amendments and (ii) to Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of  Scrutiny Committees, generally, relating to the management of those procedures at meetings;

(g) that Members be also reminded of the need to ensure microphones are switched on and used particularly when meetings are webcast and that Officers examine the potential within the current audio system to ensure that Members’ microphones are switched on remotely, if necessary, to ensure that their contributions are heard and recorded on the webcast;  [This would appear to relate to the fact that Paul Diviani’s comments cannot be heard on the webcast]

(h) that, additionally, the Procedures Committee be asked at its next meeting to ensure the wording of the Council’s Constitution in relation to the appointment and membership of Scrutiny Committees is accurate and consistent throughout and reflects the provisions of the law and that the presentation of information about such appointments at the Annual Meeting of the Council is similarly made clearer in future; and

(i) that complainants be advised that any complaint over the conduct of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee’s Co-opted Member cannot be dealt with by the County Council and that as that Member was currently an East Devon District Councillor any such complaints should be referred to East Devon District Council’s Monitoring Officer.

Additional comments from the Investigating Officer about the Committee’s ‘scrutiny’ of the CCG’s proposal:

‘In relation to concerns that the subject member did not guide or direct Committee Members sufficiently robustly to discuss the relevant issues set out in the papers before that Committee or upon which representations had been made direct to Members, the Investigating  Officer recognised that the subject member had been at pains to allow all parties present and able to speak with the Clinical Commissioning Group’s representatives, public speakers and local Members attending under Standing Orders addressing the Committee first and speaking on any aspect of the situation as they saw fit.  Thereafter Members of the Scrutiny Committee were invited to speak – without restriction as to subject or time – to enable them to raise any issues they may have wished so to do and enable an informed discussion/debate: only then coming to a view, having first heard all the arguments.

‘It was felt to be entirely reasonable to have assumed that Members of the Committee had read and digested the information before and that it was for Members themselves to refer or raise in debate and discussion any specific issues they felt were necessary or worthy of so doing.  The Investigating Officer was of the view that it would be wrong for anyone to assume that there had been no consideration of the issues highlighted in the Report CS/17/23 circulated at the 25 July meeting simply because Members had chosen not to speak specifically to any of those points.’

My comment – no one said ‘there had been no consideration of the issues highlighted in the Report CS/17/23 circulated at the 25 July meeting simply because Members had chosen not to speak specifically to any of those points.’ What we said, and I still say very strongly, is that there was not proper consideration, let alone scrutiny.

The full minutes, which will be posted on the DCC website shortly, are here: Standards Committee 29 August 2017 

… but they didn’t publish my letter in reply to Cllr Paul Diviani’s comments about the CCG and the NHS

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Here is what I sent in:
‘Cllr Paul Diviani, Conservative Leader of East Devon District Council (Midweek Herald, 23 August) says that complaints about his role in Devon County Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee are “entirely politically motivated”. This comment insults everyone who hoped that the Committee – the only local democratic body with power to decide about the decisions of NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group – would help save the beds in Seaton, Honiton and Okehampton hospitals.
 
‘A few months back, Cllr Diviani appeared to understand people’s concerns. On 16 April he even gave £50 towards a judicial review of the Honiton closure, writing, “If they persist in this drastic action we will all be the worse for it.” But at the time, Cllr Diviani’s party faced elections.
 
‘Now he feels free to show his true colours, betraying his Council’s stated policy and casting the decisive vote which blocks any reference of the hospital closures to the Secretary of State. He said that this would be pointless, because the closures were Jeremy Hunt’s own policy. However he knows that a referral would have required Mr Hunt to decide whether the matter should be examined by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, potentially leading to a reversal of the CCG’s policy.
 
‘Cllr Diviani also attacks “the tendency to assume … that the Government will keep throwing money at the NHS as they always have in the past.” He forgets that only fifteen months ago leading members of his party, such as Boris Johnson, promised no less than £350 million a week extra for the NHS.
 
‘We now know that this promise was a fraud, but the NHS’s need for extra money is real. The Royal College of Physicians estimates that it requires 4% extra in real terms per year, due to our growing and ageing population and advances in medicine. Most of this money would still be needed even if we could save the extra managerial costs caused by the Government’s NHS reorganisation, which created the CCG and other new quangos. However according to Sir Simon Stevens, Head of NHS England, the Government has made no real increase at all in the NHS budget for 2017-18 and 2018-19. This is the underlying reason for NEW Devon CCG’s financial crisis, for the sake of which they are sacrificing our community hospitals.
 
‘East Devon residents expect the leader of EDDC to stand up for us, not ignore our views. Cllr Diviani has confirmed that it is he who is politically motivated, putting the Conservative Government before justice for local communities.’
Independent councillors are proposing a motion of no confidence in Cllr Diviani at EDDC on 13 September.

Beach Management Plan drop-in today at 3 pm in Marshlands

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Sorry for short notice! These are the summaries of the consultants’ reports:

A first reading suggests protection for the western end of Seaton is ‘poor’ but government funding will be limited.

I shall be attending a stakeholder group meeting at 1 pm. Anyone who can get to the drop-in at 3 pm may find it worthwhile, as you’ll be able to talk to the consultants and EDDC officers.
http://eastdevon.gov.uk/…/council-to-hold-drop-in-session-…/

Out-patient services in Seaton Hospital

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This is the RD&E’s leaflet showing all services in the hospital before the beds were closed.RD&E leaflet on Seaton Hospital services