Special Guest Blog from Julie Wassmer

No cause for celebration for our NHS

nhs march(1)The NHS is under pressure. Figures from the National Audit Office show the income of NHS trusts “has not kept pace with growth in spending” but the government claims it’s putting an extra £10 billion into the NHS.  Where does all our NHS money go?

A year ago, at a public meeting in Whitstable, I heard GP, Dr Coral Jones, explain to residents about the 44 Sustainability Transformation Plans (STPs) that had been put in place by the government to look for “efficiency savings”.

Campaigners were already asking why these plans for significant changes to patient care were being hidden from public view. One such campaigner, writer Diane Langford, had begun researching our own Kent STP only to find herself facing a wall of STP obfuscation, acronyms and “biz-speak”.

I teamed up with Diane and learned that a private consultancy, Carnall Farrar, had been contracted to work on our local Kent STP. Although NHS Trusts are obliged to publish payments over £25,000 which they make in any one month, no payments were logged on the trust’s website for Carnall Farrar. In fact, it took a year of submitting countless Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, coupled with help from the research organisation Spinwatch, before Diane and I were to discover just how much had been paid to the firm – and by whom…

Dame Ruth Carnall had become the “Independent” chair of our local STP’s Programme Board but her own company stood to profit from its work on the STP, so I asked Julian Brazier, (my MP at the time) to investigate this potential conflict of interest. I found him to be unequivocally supportive of the STP and defensive of Ruth Carnall’s involvement, but he did unwittingly open up a line of communication for me with Glenn Douglas, then Chief Executive of the Kent & Medway NHS Trust, who offered me a meeting which I took up with Diane on Dec 7th last year.

At the trust’s offices in Maidstone, Diane and I confronted senior executives, Glenn Douglas and Michael Ridgwell (then Programme Director of the Kent & Medway STP) with our findings – the trust had actually paid Carnall Farrar £6,051,199 – a staggering sum of local Kent NHS funding diverted to a single private consultancy.

I also cited the fact that Dame Ruth Carnall had been named by the Sunday Telegraph as one of the 660 NHS “Fat Cats” who, in 2011, had been earning more than the Prime Minister (in Carnall’s case, a tidy salary of £277,500)  before she left the NHS to start up Carnall Farrar. Glenn Douglas also appeared on the same list – earning £200,200 at that time and when I mentioned this at our meeting, he responded: “Shall I let you into a little secret? I still am”.

How many of us believe that the kind of 6 figure salary routinely earned in the private sector is appropriate for a health executive within a cash-strapped public service, in which nurses and junior doctors are having to fight for decent pay, conditions and bursaries for training?

And could Carnall Farrar’s work on the STP possibly justify the millions it has been paid of our local NHS money? How many more millions have been drained away from frontline NHS patient services across the UK to pay private consultancies working on 44 STPs – ironically, to find cuts?

Carnall Farrar’s work in London is characterised by the reorganisation of stroke services – which the company have also proposed here in Kent – principally by closing the stroke service at QEQM Hospital in Margate. But recently I read a letter sent to the Stroke Review Committee at the Kent & Medway STP by the campaign group, Save Our NHS in Kent (SONIK), requesting a “withdrawal of those costly proposals due to procedural flaws within the consultation process.”

Meanwhile, another campaign group, CHEK, (Concern for Health in East Kent) which seeks reinstatement of A & E services at Kent and Canterbury Hospital, is supporting a proposal from local property developer, Mark Quinn, to build a completely new hospital “shell” in return for permission for this developer to build 2,000 houses in the area. This deal would surely be far more lucrative for Quinn than our NHS Trust – which would have to find £250 million just to equip this “shell”. As one resident wrote, it’s like replacing an old car that doesn’t work properly with a new one with no engine…

 Of Mr Quinn, a Conservative party donor, Diane Langford comments: “He stands to net hundreds of millions from the arrangement while his contribution to the building and kitting out of this shell would be relatively miniscule. In effect, he would be profiting at the expense of publicly owned assets, with Kent County Council handing over a swathe of valuable land adjacent to the existing hospital, while the latter would be allowed to languish due to lack of resource.”  Diane claims she tried to make this point at a recent CHEK meeting only to have been silenced by CHEK’S chair, Ken Rogers. “Unfortunate”, she says, “that CHEK’s mission seems to have been diverted by this questionable offer from a developer.”

Amongst all this, the recent announcement of a new medical school, a joint venture between Christ Church University and Kent University, should be welcome news, judging by the joyful reactions of Faversham MP Helen Whately, North Kent’s Roger Gale, former Canterbury MP Julian Brazier – and his Labour successor Rosie Duffield.

Newly emerged from the revolving doors of the NHS executive system as Chief Executive of the Kent and Medway STP, Glenn Douglas claims that a local medical school “is known to provide an essential boost to recruitment and retention,” but a footnote in the university’s press release makes clear that medical students will not be going straight into local hospital roles at all, but into primary care, such as GP services.

Therefore, perhaps the last word should rightly go to GP, Dr Coral Jones, who tells me:  “The decision to open a new medical school was down to Health Education England and the excellent proposal from the Canterbury universities. Tory MPs like Helen Whately, and Sir Roger Gale who supports the closure of the QEQM stroke service, should certainly not be congratulating themselves on this development. Students won’t begin studying until 2020, and any gains will not be seen for several years. In the meantime people continue to die due to this government’s NHS and social services cuts. There is little cause for celebration.”

A rally will be hosted by Save Our NHS in Kent on Sunday April 8th in Margate Old Town from noon onwards. All welcome.

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Julie Wassmer is an author and campaigner. Her crime novels are set in Whitstable, where she’s lived for 20 years. Photo by Jon Eldude


NB This article was originally submitted to (but not published by) the Canterbury Journal.

nhs leaflet photo

Useful Links

Petition for signing:


Save Our Stroke Unit Rally – Sunday 8th April 2018:-


Stroke survivor praises QEQM team who treated him and explains why the move of stroke services from Margate would “cost lives”: https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurNHSKent/videos/1028003467339232/

Stroke Service at QEQM: Resident tells public meeting: Don’t close it, improve it!:


GP, Dr Tim Winch, condemns lack of evidence for Kent stroke plans:


Carly Jeffery of SONIK speaking at the Stroke STP 24 March:


About STPs


Link to Sunday Telegraph “NHS Fat Cat Earners” article from 2011 showing Ruth Carnall at No 3 (earning £277,500)  and Glenn Douglas at No 43 on £200,200.


Whitstable Campaign: Carnall Farrar take millions from NHS England

Scandal’s implications

Many thanks to Diane Langford and Julie Wassmer, two Whitstable activists who, through hard work and persistence, were able to expose a regional scandal in NHS spending with distinct national implications.

What they discovered was the use of NHS funds to pay consultancy firm, Carnall Farrar, over £6 million for barely 18 months work.

Add to this the fact that Dame Ruth Carnall, a former NHS executive, and partner in Carnall Farrar, was, at the same time, also the 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 within the NHS – and you can see that there is a conflict of interest here.

If £6 million has gone to just this one firm in just one region, how much more is disappearing in the NHS as a whole?

It took these two doughty women over a year to dig out the truth, making numerous Freedom of Information requests, a lengthy and time consuming process.

There are several notable things about this story.

Firstly, that NHS Trusts are obliged by law to register all payments of £25K and over, and yet these sums paid to Carnell Farrar were not recorded. The explanation was that the STP was ‘not an organisation’ and therefore had no obligation to publish its payments.

Secondly, that it took two independent campaigners to discover this. When the women first approached the Trust they were told that the figure was £2.2 million. It was only with the help of research organisation Spinwatch that they were able to show it was at least £6.05 million, and possibly more.

Finally, that the story has hardly been touched by the press. The only national paper to take it up was the Morning Star. No other print paper has seen fit to publish it and it has not been reported by the BBC or any other broadcast medium. The only other report of the issue appeared on an independent website.

Why is the government encouraging health managers to fritter away millions on unaccountable management consultancies? With such a lack of transparency, it’s no wonder our NHS is in trouble.

NHS march on Downing Street, 03/02/18


From The Whitstable Gazette 01/02/18

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

fax: 01227 762415

email: kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk


Whitstable People: Ritchie Harnett

House prices are driving people away.

People on Island Wall, Nelson Road and the adjoining streets, will have noticed that they have a new postman.

This is because their old postman, Ritchie Harnett, has moved to Grimsby.

There’s been a lot of talk about house prices in the paper recently. Ritchie’s move is the perfect illustration of that.

He has a growing family to care for and needed more space. He simply couldn’t afford to get a bigger house in the town on his income.

His family have lived in Whitstable for generations. He was born and brought up here. He went to school here. His relatives are here. His roots are here. Everything he has ever known is in this town.

On the other hand, most of his contemporaries have long since moved away. They too, like him, couldn’t afford to live in Whitstable any longer.

It’s a five hour drive from Whitstable to Grimsby, which means it will be very difficult for his Mum and Dad to get to see their grandkids.

On the plus side: the house he has brought up there is four times the size of the one he lived in in Whitstable, with a garden five times the size. He says his new kitchen is the size of the ground floor of his old house.

Also, his new office is within walking distance of his house, unlike the Whitstable office, which is eight miles away.

He probably never would have wanted to move had the delivery office not been shifted to Canterbury.

Ritchie was very popular with his customers. I spoke to one of them who told me they trusted him implicitly. There was even a petition going around trying to persuade him to stay.

Let me assure them: their new postman is just as trustworthy and reliable, just as honest as Ritchie, and will serve them just as well.

Nevertheless it is a measure of everything that is wrong in this world that postal workers and other people doing essential jobs, such as Ritchie, can no longer afford to live in the towns where they were brought up.

There is a chronic shortage of affordable housing in the UK, something which needs to be urgently addressed.


From The Whitstable Gazette 10/08/17

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE

fax: 01227 762415

email: kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk

website: kentishgazette.co.uk

Whitstable views: job centre closures

Job Centre closures put more pressure on vulnerable

It’s that word again: “modernisation”.

They used it when they closed down the Royal Mail delivery offices.

They used it when they closed down the Whitstable police station, and then when they tried to close down the Crown Post Office and move it as a franchise into Somerfield supermarket.

Now here it is again, being deployed as an excuse for shutting 78 Job Centres across the country, including those in Whitstable and Herne Bay.

It is always portrayed as something that we should be grateful for.

“At the heart of everything we do is our customers,” says the Department for Work and Pensions. “We have made it easier than ever for people to access our suite of specialist services.”

What they don’t tell you is that if a job seeker is late for their signing on appointment, they can be sanctioned, and could lose their benefits.

This can often have horrific consequences, as anyone who has seen the new Ken Loach movie, I Daniel Blake, will testify.

People who have lost their jobs are vulnerable, and often depressed. They feel insecure, and uncertain about the future.

There are known cases of suicide following sanctions, so the loss of the Job Centres is not just a matter of a minor inconvenience: in some cases it may be a question of life or death.

As for disabled people, the bus journey itself will be complex and stressful and would certainly lead to discomfort and possible trauma.

As many as 1200 job seekers over the two towns may be affected.

In April 2014 the Whitstable Job Centre was threatened with closure, but a successful campaign by the Whitstable and Canterbury Stop the Cuts group managed to keep it open. There’s no reason why another campaign can’t also be successful.

The current campaign is supported by the PCS union as jobs will be threatened.

The public consultation ends on the 28th of February. Here is the address:


Or put “Proposal for the future of Whitstable and Herne Bay jobcentres” into your search engine.

We need to protect the vulnerable in our society, not cause them more distress.

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