Double whammy rocks bosses

BOSSES in both Suffolk's health service and at the county were today left smarting after it emerged two of the most controversial decisions in years had been seriously flawed.

Josh Warwick

BOSSES in both Suffolk's health service and at the county were today left smarting after it emerged two of the most controversial decisions in years had been seriously flawed.

The decision to switch head and neck cancer operations from Ipswich Hospital to the Norfolk and Norwich was based on out-of-date figures - as senior staff in Suffolk had warned.

And the appointment of new Suffolk County Council chief Andrea Hill on a salary £70,000 more than her predecessor was described by the district auditor as “potentially unlawful”.

The double whammy sent shocks through public service bosses in Suffolk as they tried to come to terms with the revelations.

Chief executive's job may be unlawful

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COUNTY chiefs bungled the controversial appointment of new £220,000 chief executive Andrea Hill, watchdogs have revealed.

A probe was launched amid huge public outcry at the size of the salary, £70,000 more than previous chief executive Mike More earned, and concerns that rules had been broken in the way the package was beefed up.

In a hard-hitting report, district auditor Robert Davies describes the appointment process as “potentially unlawful” because the decision to increase the salary band to secure Mrs Hill was made without important information being available.

He added that the council's selection panel, led by council leader Jeremy Pembroke, didn't debate key issues over the appointment, including the impact of the huge salary on the budget, because all the facts were not on the table and highlighted a number of “deficiencies”.

However, the findings are confused by Mr Davies' conclusion that the areas for improvement he identifies “do not mean that the appointment process was fundamentally flawed or that unlawful decisions were made”.

Despite this, the auditor said he considered referring the matter to court as “an unlawful item of account” but felt that this would not be in the public interest.

The probe also found that:

Potential redundancy costs of the move, which could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, were not thought through.

The impact on the council's pay structure was not considered.

Risks to the reputation of Suffolk County Council of such a move were not properly gauged.

Opposition politicians have attacked the Tory administration on the findings, claiming it cannot be trusted to run the county.

Julian Swainson, leader of the Labour group, said: “This report shows that Suffolk electors simply cannot trust their Tory county councillors to act responsibly with taxpayers' money.

“The Conservative administration at the council would have more credibility if they admitted that they had made mistakes in this process.”

Leader of the county's Lib Dem group, Kathy Pollard said: “I think what this report shows, once again, is that a small Conservative group is making secretive decisions for the rest of the county.

“We are very concerned at the implication that the council cannot demonstrate value for money was given sufficient consideration. At a time when many people are feeling the pinch, this simply makes the council look bad.

Deputy group leader Andrew Cann added, “During the robust debate on the appointment, I highlighted the fact that the council should not proceed with making the appointment as it was not clear whether the appointment would be unsafe.

“This report seems to confirm that.”

But the Tory group said the findings of the report actually confirmed that “the process was properly run”.

Jeremy Pembroke, Conservative leader of Suffolk County Council, said: “We have always maintained that the process was robust and thorough, and I am delighted that this has been confirmed by the Audit Commission.

“Labour and the Lib Dems can play politics with this if they like, but the Conservatives will continue working hard on behalf of the people of this county, to continue delivering high-quality services befitting the best county council in the east of England, and to keep council tax as low as possible.

Jane Storey, Tory portfolio holder for resource management and transformation, said: “I am pleased with the outcome of the district auditor's report.

“While the author recommends some improvements, his conclusion that 'the council had had a robust and thorough selection process in place to meet its stated objective of securing the best candidate for the chief executive post' and his comments on the salary level confirm that the process was properly run.”

A spokesman for the county council said a number of recommendations made had already been acted on.

Should the issue have been taken to court? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

Out of date figures used in cancer car move

FIGURES being used in a public consultation to decide whether to move vital cancer services from Ipswich to Norwich were out of date, it can be revealed today.

Anglia Cancer Network and the Suffolk Primary Care Trust have been working on figures from 2004 - 2006 which show the head and cancer team at Ipswich Hospital worked on average of 66 cases a year, well below national guidelines for a specialist centre.

However, new figures reveal that in 2007, the number of cases shot up to 82, 69 of whom were from East Suffolk.

Although it is still below national guidelines of 100 operations being carried out each year it reveals yet another flaw in the consultation - undertaken to give the people of Suffolk clear information on a controversial topic.

Earlier this month at a public meeting, it was revealed that there was no published clinical evidence to show that specialist centres like the one planned in Norwich are best for patient care.

The Evening Star is running a campaign to try to prevent the move of surgery for head and neck cancer patients to Norwich, forcing people to travel more than 40 miles while ill and meaning family and friends may not be able to visit them.

So far more than 2,000 people have signed the petition.

Hospital chief executive Andrew Reed confirmed that the head and neck cancer team had a “significant workload”, but he claimed the number of operations failed to meet national guidelines requiring 100 operations a year are carried out at specialist centres.

He said: “We have validated the data produced by our clinicians about head and neck cancer activity for 2007.

“What this validation shows is that the hospital's head and neck cancer team is very busy with a significant workload - arguably one of the biggest single teams in East Anglia.

“However, the work undertaken by the Ipswich Hospital team in 2007 for east Suffolk residents alone does not meet the minimum criterion of 100 cases.

“We are in close dialogue with the Norfolk and Norwich on the basis that an integrated team between our two hospitals could further strengthen the patient experience, building on the strength of both teams and seeking to protect in particular the provision of non-cancer oral maxillofacial surgery at Ipswich Hospital.

“It is my strong view that any solution to achieve compliance with improving outcomes guidance - to make sure we are reaching the gold standard in cancer care - for head and neck needs to make good use of a well functioning multi-disciplinary team at Ipswich Hospital that can demonstrate that it has the skills, the experience and the survival rates to make a real contribution to an excellent service for patients.”

Anglia Cancer Network received figures from Ipswich Hospital Trust in December 2007 which estimated that it had around 66 new head and neck cancer cases between 2004 and 2006.

Audrey Bradford, the network's director, added: “When we get the latest figures from Ipswich Hospital, we will validate them as soon as possible. It is important that everybody is using the same data for calculating the level of cases.”

Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive of Suffolk Primary Care Trust, said: “These new figures are consistent to those originally submitted for the consultation document.

“It is important that we achieve the best possible cancer care for our patients and keeping as much service as possible local, while getting the best for our patients from centralised specialist centres.”

Should head and neck services be retained in Ipswich? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstar