Sara Randall Johnson
Health Scrutiny Chair should consider her position after rebuke and the County must act to restore confidence in scrutiny of NHS
My press release:
Devon 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.
Why did Devon’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee block the proposal to refer the closure of our beds to the Secretary of State? The idea that the Chair, Councillor Sara Randall Johnson (left), was settling an old score with Claire Wright makes a nice story but overlooks the concerted Conservative position. The collusion between Randall Johnson and Rufus Gilbert – who rushed to propose a ‘no referral’ motion before Claire could move her motion to refer -was obvious to all, as was her keenness to persuade her colleagues not to have a recorded vote.
Equally striking, however, is that only one out of 12 Tories on the Committee – Honiton’s Phil Twiss – voted against Gilbert’s motion. The other 7 Tories who voted were all for allowing the beds to be closed; 2 who had reservations abstained; 2 more were (diplomatically?) absent. Whipping is not allowed on Scrutiny committees, but this gives a strong impression of a Tory consensus. Members who were uncertain of their support were unwilling to defy it beyond abstention. Twiss was obviously a special case, as the one committee member whose hospital will lose its beds.
Clearly the Conservative Group on DCC gave their East Devon members the main role in dealing with the Eastern Locality hospital beds issue when in May (with its return to Scrutiny looming) they made Randall Johnson chair and nominated two Exmouth members, Jeff Trail and Richard Scott, as well as Twiss as members of the Health Scrutiny Committee. With East Devon Tory leader, Paul Diviani, representing Devon’s district councils, 5 of its Tory members were from East Devon and only 7 from the other five-sixths of the Tory group.
East Devon Tories on the committee certainly lived up to their role on Tuesday. All except Trail voted, making half of all Tory votes cast on the committee and 3 out of 7 on the pro-CCG side. In contrast, only 4 of the 7 Tories from elsewhere in the county cast a vote on this crucial issue: East Devon’s Tories may have convinced themselves, but not their colleagues.
Paul Diviani spills the beans
With Randall Johnson preoccupied with timekeeping (except when the CCG were speaking), Scott silent and Twiss asking questions, it was left to Diviani (right) to express the Tory rationale. He claimed to speak for Devon district councils as a whole, but has acknowledged that he had consulted none of the others. He was happy to defy his own Council, which has voted to keep hospital beds, and spoke for himself – and East Devon Conservatives.
Diviani’s caustic little speech deserves more attention than it has been given.
- He started by saying that those who decide to live in the countryside expect diminished service, and must cut their cloth accordingly in current times – forgetting that many have lived here all their lives, or moved here long before the present Tory government arrived to savage the NHS.
- ‘Costs will always rise without innovation’, Diviani continued, forgetting that the ‘costs’ of community hospitals are rising particularly because of the Tory innovation which gave them over to NHS Property Services and its ‘market rents’.
- ‘Local decisions should be made locally’, he averred, overlooking the fact that Sustainability and Transformation Plans, Success Regimes and NHS property sales are all national initiatives forced on the local NHS – while NEW Devon CCG is so unrepresentative even of local doctors that only full-time managers (Sonja Manton and Rob Sainsbury) are allowed to present its case in public while its ‘practitioner’ figurehead, Dr Tim Burke, hides in a corner.
When, however, Diviani warned that ‘attempting to browbeat the Secretary of State to overturn his own policies is counter-intuitive’, he expressed the truth of the situation. The closure of community hospitals results from the determined policies of the Conservative Government. (Referral would have served the purposes of delaying permanent closures, embarrassing the Government and forcing its Independent Reconfiguration Panel to give an assessment of the issue.)
East Devon Tories are the Government’s faithful servants. ‘Don’t trust East Devon Tories’ over the hospitals, I warned during the County elections. How right have I been proved.