Big changes needed at Sheffield health body says MP after report reveals executive team beset by infighting

A Sheffield MP says there needs to be big changes at the city's NHS clinical commissioning group after an independent review of the body identified serious failings.

By Dan Hayes
Tuesday, 05 March, 2019, 14:38

The report by NHS England was called for by MPs after a number of senior people both inside and outside the CCG raised serious concerns with them about its leadership and culture.

The report reveals a leadership team beset by infighting and poor behaviour in relation to a HR investigation into medical director Dr Zak McMurray.

Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts.

And it warns that unless the serious combination of failings the inspectors identified are addressed, the organisation would continue on a ‘downward trajectory’.

Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts, who was one of those calling for the review, said CCG bosses must now accept that big changes are needed.

He said: “They seem to think things are generally good with one or two things that need improving but the downward trajectory remark is a very stark warning. The CCG is not a failing organisation but it is an organisation with lots of failings.

“The general feeling from people I have spoken to is that the report doesn’t reflect the severity of the concerns that were raised. The language is very tentative compared with some of the criticisms that we heard.

“It depends now whether the CCG recognise that there are fundamental concerns with the way the organisation is being run. If they are not addressed at once the people of Sheffield will not get the health service they need.”

The NHS Sheffield CCG decides how health money in the city is spent and is one of the biggest clinical commissioning groups in the country, with an annual budget of more than £800m.

Its governing body will consider the report next week and has been asked by NHS England to develop an improvement plan, complete with timescales and governance arrangements.

A total of 87 people were interviewed for the report by Denise McLennan, a former NHS chief executive from the West Midlands.

These included 51 CCG staff from all levels of the organisation, all the governing body, 15 senior officers in partner organisations and Healthwatch Sheffield.

Many of those interviewed said there were aspects of the culture, values and leadership of the body that needed improvement.

People said the behaviour of senior leaders did not always ‘live and breathe’ the CCG’s values, while others felt career opportunities were not fairly offered.

The executive team, most of whom had not previously operated at board level, seemed ‘unable to learn from corporate memory’, with failings being particularly evident in community and primary care.

The problems had been exacerbated by ‘sustained disagreements’ between executive team members which had become visible to others and had not been addressed effectively.

And not enough had been done to address problems of bullying and harassment, despite this being raised as an issue in the 2017 staff survey.

The report says one of the reasons the executive team were struggling was an ongoing HR investigation relating to medical director Dr Zak McMurray, who has now been on special leave on full pay since February 2018.

A Health Service Journal report earlier this week based on anonymous conversations with senior staff said the atmosphere at the organisation had become ‘toxic’ after Dr McMurray’s suspension amid allegations of bullying, favouritism and harassment.

The report says the ongoing investigation had placed the unity of the governing body ‘under strain’, with communication from the board regarding it being poor, and rumours circulating widely thanks in part to disclosures from those involved.

And it says the CCG should consider whether the current executive team is the right one to lead it forward.

Responding to the report, the CCG said it made clear it was ‘in no way a failing CCG’ and had been rated as ‘good’ in 2018 by NHS England.

It said the report recognised a great number of strengths, as well as areas for improvement, and while bosses were ‘disappointed’ by some of its findings, they accepted them and were committed to tackling all the issues it identified.

Changes had already been made to improve transparency and procedures for whistleblowers, they added, and said a recent staff survey found that the CCG had satisfaction levels higher than the national average.