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A United Kingdom hospital at which Tasmania’s Health Department secretary David Roberts was once CEO is   one of the UK’s seven deadliest hospitals, a British report has revealed.

Mr Roberts was chief executive officer of University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire National Health Service Trust (Coventry & Warwickshire), for five years from June 2002 until July 31, 2006.

And a senior colleague in the UK, Alice Burchill, is now a deputy secretary of the Health Department in Tasmania. Ms Burchill, then Alice Casey, was the chief operating officer with the UK Trust until December 31, 2006.

The report identified Coventry & Warwickshire as one of seven NHS hospitals in the UK with consistently high death rates for the past five years to March this year.

While Mr Roberts was CEO, the suspension of heart surgeon Raj Mattu cost the British taxpayers an estimated 5 million pounds.  Dr Mattu’s supporters claimed he was suspended for revealing practices endangering patient care.

The annual Dr Foster Hospital Guide, released last month and compiled by Dr Foster Intelligence, is based on a range of indicators including death rates, infection rates, patient safety and staffing levels, resulting in Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratios (HSMR). They measure the likelihood of individual patients dying at a hospital given their condition, age and socio-economic status.

Named as one of the seven deadliest in the past five years, Coventry & Warwickshire was among 27 NHS hospitals, in the 12 months to March this year, with percentages higher than the national average.

The details of the Dr Foster Hospital Guide is reported in the UK Daily Telegraph: HERE.

On November 29th, the Telegraph’s medical editor Rebecca Smith reported that the Care Quality Commission had given nine of the 27 trusts ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ ratings for overall performance.  The article quoted the Commission’s head, Baroness Young, saying that some of Dr Foster’s data was “very legitimate”, while some was “quite alarmist”. But Patients’ Association director Katherine Murphy said: 

“How can these trusts have high mortality rates for five years and no-one do anything about it? ... Until such time as individuals are held to account this terrible situation is not going to change.”

On November 30th, the Telegraph reported that some trusts named in the Guide said the HSMR measure was just one of many indicators of performance and was often explained by particular circumstances, but Dr Foster said high ratios should be a wake-up call for hospitals to improve procedures. It was also reported that the Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, had ordered an urgent investigation to establish if action needed to be taken, while the Conservatives had called for an over-haul of the inspection system.

Mr Roberts was appointed by Tasmania’s Health Minister Lara Giddings to head her department in August 2007, a post he took up in December 2007. Last year,  Alice Burchill, the former chief operating officer at Coventry & Warwickshire, was appointed to the newly created position of deputy secretary care and reform.

Dr Mattu was suspended from Walsgrave Hospital - now Coventry & Warwickshire, also called University Hospitals - four months before Mr Roberts was appointed CEO, and shortly after he claimed on BBC TV that 11 patients died because of overcrowding in a heart attack recovery ward. Dr Mattu was suspended for allegedly bullying two junior doctors.

When asked about the Raj Mattu case in June this year, Mr Roberts told Tasmanian Times he had attempted to resolve issues involving several suspended doctors in his five years as CEO. Some were resolved, but the Mattu case was unresolved when he left. “I didn’t suspend him,” he said. “I tried to resolve it. It didn’t get sorted in my time there.”

Mr Roberts told Tasmanian Times that he was unaware of the outcome.

Yet Coventry’s The Telegraph reported on July 31, 2006, that acting CEO Martin Lee had lifted Dr Mattu’s suspension - on the same day that Mr Roberts’ contract ended. In March this year, the British Medical Council exonerated Dr Mattu of more than 150 complaints made against him by Coventry & Warwickshire, after one of the longest and costliest suspensions in the history of the National Health Service.

In October, Tasmanian Times asked the Health Department’s communications unit a series of questions about the running of the department, one of which was whether Ms Giddings knew, when she approved the appointments of Mr Roberts and Ms Burchill,  about their involvement during Dr Mattu’s five-year suspension. 

We were told that no further questions would be answered.

Margaretta Pos’ extensive investigation of Tasmania’s DHHS: HERE