Ben Fox
Ben Fox

Dame Ruth Carnall is the former chair of the North East West Clinical Commissioning Group (NEW Devon CCG) who were responsible for closing a number of NHS medical service in the county, including in-patient beds and the maternity unit at Okehampton Hospital and in-patient beds at Holsworthy Hospital.

Former NHS executive, Dame Ruth Carnall also heads the private consultancy firm Carnall Farrar which was paid millions of pounds in ‘consultancy fees’ by a number of clinical commissioning groups in England. During several meetings last year, the mayor of Okehampton Jan Goffey and accountant Paul Callan raised the ‘conflict of interest’ matter.

Dame Ruth Carnall’s company was paid £658,514 in 13 payments from April 2016 to March 2017, the last payment being for £237,056. Dame Ruth Carnall was not seen at any further meetings.

Concerns about Dame Ruth were raised a year ago following allegations of wasting public money and conflict of interest.

Save our Hospitals Services, (SOHS) Devon spokesman David Clinch called the programme false, flawed and fraudulent and said: “They are riddled with public-private, professional-personal conflicts of interest.”

Cathy Gardner of East Devon Alliance, which was against the CCG rush to close NHS services, said at the time: “EDA are very concerned at the failure of the CCG to provide robust clinical evidence to support their proposal for care at home, despite requests for information.”

Now it emerges that NEW Devon CCG weren’t the only CCG who paid Carnell Farrar ‘consultancy fees’.

Two local Kent campaigners have mounted a year-long investigation, involving numerous Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and a meeting with top NHS executives, in order to confirm that a small private consultancy firm had been paid over £6 million of local NHS funds to find cuts and “efficiency savings” in Kent.

Diane Langford and Julie Wassmer say they became concerned when they saw that Dame Ruth Carnall had been made Independent Chair of the Programme Board of the local Sustainability & Transformation Plan (STP) – one of 44 regional bodies put in place by NHS England to implement cuts and “savings” within the NHS.

Author and campaigner, Julie Wassmer says “I raised concerns with former Canterbury MP, Julian Brazier, at a public CHEK (Concern for Health in East Kent) meeting last March, questioning how Dame Ruth could possibly claim ‘independence’ when her own company was set to profit from the contract.

At the same time, I was aware that my colleague, Diane Langford, had already been coming up against a wall of obfuscation in trying to discover how much that contract was worth and who was actually making the payments.”

Ms Langford, a writer and former Hansard transcriber says: “I actually submitted my first Freedom of Information request in December 2016, then dozens more to all eight Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Kent and Medway as well as to Kent County Council (KCC) and NHS England in order to try to establish who was paying Carnall Farrar. Each respondent has up to 20 days to reply and all the bodies denied having paid the firm though KCC had disclosed that the money came from ‘the NHS.’”

A complaint to the FOI Ombudsman against Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was triggered when no reply was received within 20 days.

Eventually the campaigners found that millions of NHS money had been paid to Carnall Farrar by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, of which Glenn Douglas was then CEO.

Wassmer then obtained a meeting last month, at which the campaigners discussed with Douglas (now CEO of the Kent and Medway Sustainability and Transformation Partnership) and Michael Ridgwell (its Programme Director) the huge sums that had been paid to Carnall Farrar and why they were not appearing on the Trust’s usual spending records for payments of £25k and over.

“Ironically,” says Wassmer, “this was on 7th December, just before the local NHS was about to implode with the pressure of Christmas and New Year emergencies. Michael Ridgwell was unable to produce an exact figure of how much had been paid to Carnall Farrar but suggested the sum of £2.2M. I then explained that with the help of the research organisation Spinwatch, we had actually confirmed that a figure of £6,051,199 had been paid to September 2017 – though only just over half of it had been logged in the Trust’s spending records, with no record of any significant spending on Carnall Farrar before June 2017 – and no trace of the remaining millions.

“At the meeting Glenn Douglas explained to us that as the STP is not an “organisation” it is not obliged to publish its payments, but Michael Ridgwell then agreed to publish the full expenditure on the Trust’s website and has since done so. These records show that Carnall Farrar has been paid well over half a million pounds a month since September last year, although it’s not known whether this money is on top of the £6m it has already charged the local NHS.”

The campaigners insist it is crucial to challenge the lack of clarity, transparency, and accountability surrounding such huge payments. Even more so as the government now seeks to introduce new bodies – Accountable Care Organisations – that could see billions of pounds of the NHS budget handed to commercial companies.

“This is public money,” says Wassmer, “NHS funds being diverted away from services and into the pockets of private consultancies. We know that over £6 million, and possibly more, has been paid from the local (Kent) NHS budget to this one consultancy for barely 18 months’ work on the local STP.

“How much more is going to management consultants across the whole of the UK? It’s almost impossible to hold the system to account and I fear it will only be worse with the impending introduction of so-called Accountable Care Organisations. Paying millions to private companies, like Carnall Farrar to find damaging cuts within an underfunded service is not only senseless – it’s immoral.”

Diane Langford agrees: “This lack of transparency conceals not only the sums involved, but the role consultancies like Carnall Farrar play in axing services. At our meeting on 7th December, we mentioned that Dame Ruth Carnall had appeared in a 2011 list compiled by the Sunday Telegraph of the highest paid NHS “fat cats” – earning an annual salary of over £200,000 at that time.

“Glenn Douglas was on the same list, and while he admitted he was still earning in excess of £200,000 a year, the point is that as an NHS member of staff he can be held duly accountable for his work, in a way that private companies like Carnall Farrar cannot.”

Dr Coral Jones, GP, vice-chair of Doctors in Unite and member of Keep our NHS Public commented: “As the campaigners Diane Langford and Julie Wassmer have uncovered, over £6 million has been paid to a single consultancy company run by a former director of NHS London to tell the Kent and Medway CCGs how to cut services.

“Downgrading of services at QEQM hospital in Margate, as proposed by Carnall Farrar, will put lives at risk. The use of management consultancy companies is widespread in the NHS. Their reports, costing many millions of pounds, all follow the same formula of cuts, re-configurations and concentration of services.”

The Save Our Hospitals Campaign has organised a demonstration that will take place from Bedford Square in Exeter at 11am on Saturday 3rd February which is open to anyone who has concerns over the NHS in Devon.