Bereaved families angered by Tory MP’s second job at troubled NHS trust

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Families bereaved after failures by a troubled NHS mental health trust have expressed concern that a local MP has taken a second job there as a paid clinician.

Norfolk and Suffolk foundation trust (NSFT) has been rated as “inadequate” four times since austerity cuts were made in 2013, at a time when Dr Dan Poulter, the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, was a junior health minister in the coalition government.

In February, Poulter became a part-time consultant psychiatrist at the trust, earning £103 an hour according to the register of members interest.

Poulter has said all the appropriate disclosures were made and he denied there was any potential conflict of interest.

But three families whose loved ones died after failures by the trust, as well as a local GP and a clinician at the trust, have questioned how Poulter could hold the trust to account while he was on its payroll.

NSFT is facing calls for a public inquiry into the repeated failures that have been highlighted by coroners and its inability to account for 8,440 unexpected deaths between April 2019 and October 2022.

Sheila Preston, whose son Leo Jacobs died of a drug overdose in 2016 after visits by an NSFT mental health nurse suddenly stopped, is a public governor at the trust and one of Poulter’s Suffolk constituents.

She said: “There is a possible conflict of interest if he’s trying to represent the carers and the patients of a very failing mental health trust in Suffolk.”

Ellie Woolnough, 27, from Kesgrave, which sits in Poulter’s constituency, took her own life in May 2022 after what a coroner said were missed opportunities, failed interactions, and “nonexistent safety planning” by NSFT. In an email, her parents, Lisa and James, asked: “What guarantees and assurances can he [Poulter] offer his constituents that he can support them without prejudice when faced with issues concerning NSFT?”

Chris Edward’s daughter Rachel, from Stradbroke, which is also in Poulter’s Suffolk constituency, took a fatal overdose of prescription drugs in 2017 after she was discharged from NSFT’s hospital care earlier than her family wanted.

He said: “Dr Poulter may, in my view, be unable to hold simultaneously the competing interests of his new role in the NHS and the ability to account to his constituents for the failings of the organisation.”

Pallavi Devulapalli, a GP in Norfolk who is the Green party spokesperson on health and has repeatedly raised complaints about the trust, said: “I am very concerned to hear that a sitting MP is an employee of NSFT. At a time when we need robust challenge and scrutiny to the culture within this organisation, it’s hard to see how he can perform that job adequately while being on their payroll.”

A clinician at the trust who wished to remain anonymous said: “A serving MP cannot readily work for the very organisation he monitors without an uncomfortable question regarding impartiality.”

They added: “It would be inconceivable for him to raise concerns about underinvestment as an NHS employee while serving as an MP of a governing party that has prioritised diminishing NHS spend elsewhere.”

In last month’s register of MPs’ interests, Poulter said he was employed on a flexible contract for the trust on a salary of £7,237 per month for approximately 840 hours a year.

The unnamed clinician said: “This money could be spent far more effectively on appointing nurses and support workers who deliver the vital monitoring and care of patients following diagnosis.”

During Poulter’s stint as a junior minister he took an unpaid part-time job at a London hospital. At the time he told the Guardian: “Obviously I wouldn’t expect to be paid for working for the NHS. I regard it as part of my role as a minister.”

In August 2022 Poulter expressed his frustrations to the East Anglian Daily Times at the continuing failures at NSFT. He was quoted as saying: “I say this with a level of regret, but we’ve got to a point where the trust being put into administration will be the first step to putting things right. It’s past the point of no return.”

Speaking in parliament in March 2023, he said: “Over the past eight years, the trust has been rated ‘inadequate’ four times, which I think probably places it not just as an outlier but as historically the worst-performing trust in the country for both physical and mental health.”

But he added:“My view would be that we now need to get behind and support the new leadership team and recognise that for the first time in eight years we have a trust that is moving in the right direction and now needs to show consistent progress.”

Poulter’s lawyer said he had “unwavering” commitment to holding the trust to account.

A statement issued on Poulter’s behalf said: “He meets with patients, carers and staff from the trust on a regular basis at his weekly MP surgeries to discuss problems or concerns they have about the trust and the quality of patient care provided (and did so most recently last Friday).

“He raises these issues directly with the chief executive of the trust, both parties recognising that in doing so, this is within his role as an MP and outside of his role as an employee of the trust. Last month, for example, our client raised a number of individual cases relating to the trust’s child and adolescent mental health services.”


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