The decision to allow the chief executive of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust to keep her job, despite condemnation of the trust for its failure to investigate the deaths of people with learning disabilities and mental health issues, has been heavily criticised.

Following a comprehensive review by Tim Smart, interim chair of Southern Health, into the issues at the trust, he confirmed that chief executive Katrina Percy will remain in post, although he said her focus will move from operational matters to the delivery of the trust’s future strategy.

Percy has been under fire for some time, with previous calls for her to resign or be removed from her post after a series of failings have been uncovered at the trust. For instance, Connor Sparrowhawk drowned in a bath at one of Southern Health’s learning disability units in 2013. His death was initially put down to ‘natural causes’ but the trust has since accepted responsibility for his death.

A critical report into Southern Health by Mazars, published in December 2015, found, among other failings, that the trust failed to adequately investigate unexplained deaths. In addition, Mazars found that many investigations were of poor quality and took too long to complete; there was a lack of leadership, focus and sufficient time spent in the Trust on carefully reporting and investigating deaths and there was a lack of family involvement after a death.

In addition, care regulator the Care Quality Commission reported serious concerns about the safety of patients with mental health problems and learning disabilities in some locations operated by Southern Health in April – despite it being warned to improve previously.

However, Smart said that he believed the trust is making progress, and found no evidence of negligence or incompetence of any individual Southern Health board member.

Smart also outlined a plan to transform the way it delivers services. This includes learning disability services provided by Southern Health in Oxfordshire to be transferred to Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust as soon as agreement is reached.

Beyond belief 

But the review, and the decision for Percy to remain in post, was met with dismay by the Justice for LB campaign – which was set up by members of Connor Sparrowhawk’s family.

A statement, issued on behalf of ‘patients, relatives of those that have died and others that have suffered at the hands of Southern Health’ said: “We are extremely shocked that those who have sat in judgement on this matter would allow Katrina Percy to continue in her role as chief executive. We believe it reflects badly on them and their judgement. It is beyond belief given the clear evidence available and a long succession of failures that have come to light.

“The non-executives [of Southern Health] are meant to hold the executives to account. This has not happened before or after Mazars. The Council of Governors are meant to hold the non-executives to account and they have not been allowed to do this. Katrina Percy has never been questioned at length by the public about her management of the Trust, decisions she has made, the model of care she has imposed since 2011 and to ask her what actions she took after receiving the Holder report.

“We are aware of other deaths of patients of Southern Health where the care and treatment of the patients are likely to be criticised in the near future at Coroner’s Courts. Southern Health have not learnt lessons – the mistakes are continuing.

“Sometimes in life it is difficult to understand why certain courses of action are taken or not taken. We cannot understand why this incredulous decision has been made to allow Katrina Percy to remain in her post.”

Professor Martin Green OBE, chief executive of Care England, also criticised the decision. “At a time when the Government and regulators are talking about accountability and enshrining in law accountability trails in the independent sector, it is completely unacceptable that this is not applied to Foundation Trusts,” he said. “There have been serious failings in the way in which Southern Health has delivered services to people with learning disabilities and the people leading the organisation must be held accountable for its performance. 

“If this scandal had happened in the independent sector, the senior team would have rightly been accountable and the “fit and proper person test” would have applied. There has been a terrible price paid by many people with learning disabilities and their families, through these failings and they deserve to have a transparent and accountable process, which identifies where the failings have been and who is responsible for them.”

The full statement from the Justice for LB campaign can be found here.