England

Southern Health boss Katrina Percy had new job 'created for her'

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Media captionTim Smart said no other candidates were considered for the post

The chief executive who resigned as the head of a troubled mental health trust had a new £240,000-a-year job created for her, the BBC has learned.

Katrina Percy faced sustained calls to resign over Southern Health's failure to investigate hundreds of deaths.

The BBC has discovered her new 12-month contract did not exist previously and she was the only candidate for it.

Ms Percy faced months of criticism for the way her trust failed to investigate patient deaths.

In June, the trust accepted responsibility for the death of 18-year-old Connor Sparrowhawk, who drowned in a bath at Slade House in Oxford.

Ms Percy resigned last week but went straight into a new role at the trust on the same salary of £240,000 a year, including pension benefits.

Trust Chairman Tim Smart, who has been in his post for four months, said it did not advertise the role but that the work the job entails - giving strategic advice to GPs - "needed to be done", describing Ms Percy as "uniquely qualified".

Dr Maureen Rickman, whose sister died while in Southern Health's care, called the move "completely outrageous".

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Media captionSouthern Health chief's 'tears' ahead of resignation

"She should be axed from Southern Health altogether, end of," she said.

"There shouldn't be a sideways move, that shouldn't be an option at all."

Southern Health said it had addressed the failings highlighted in a series of reports and that patients were now safe.

Mr Smart said: "I can unequivocally look you in the eye and say every member of staff that I have met who works on the front line is putting patient safety and the quality of care first."

The trust is currently being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive over the earlier deaths of patients.

'Very strange'

Mark Aspinall, who resigned as one of the trust's 13 public governors following a critical report by the Care Quality Commission in April, said it seemed "very strange" the new role for Ms Percy had been created.

"The health service is usually very rigorous in terms of recruitment, so the idea that a new role has been created purely to move Katrina sideways seems very surprising.

"The whole board has to look at itself and the policies it has put in place that have led to reports that have slated leadership at the trust, and the failures to investigate the deaths of patients in its care.

"But Katrina should have taken responsibility for this a long time ago."

Former health minister Norman Lamb has already called for Southern Health to reconsider its decision to create the role.

'Delivered nothing'

"I don't have a difficulty with someone being well paid for a highly responsible job, but on the proviso that there is accountability with it and that, if things go wrong, you take responsibility for that and you step down ultimately."

In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Smart clarified it was a "finite role for a 12 month period, after which Katrina's employment with the trust will cease".

Earlier Oxford disability charity My Life My Choice sent an open letter to Mr Smart, saying it was no longer prepared to engage with the trust's leadership.

It said: "After considerable time and effort by our charity's champions in trying to help the leadership of Southern Health act in a responsible and kind way, we now know that we have been wasting our time.

"After Connor Sparrowhawk's death in 2013 the leadership of Southern Health were falling over themselves to speak with the people with learning disabilities that lead our charity."

It added that after making many promises in the aftermath of Connor's death, Southern Health had "delivered nothing".

A special BBC South documentary, "Broken Trust", is on BBC One in the South of England at 19:30 BST and across the UK at 20:30 on the BBC News Channel.

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