A former NHS chief executive whose trust was embroiled in a superbug scandal two years ago was given another job working for the NHS – in a trust run by her sister-in-law.
Ruth Harrison, the former chief executive of Stoke Mandeville hospital, Buckinghamshire, where 33 people died in an outbreak of Clostridium difficile, received a £140,000 pay-off in a golden goodbye days before a damning report was published citing serious faults in her leadership.
But barely a year later she was appointed as lead consultant on a review of maternity services at Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust, whose chief executive, Samatha Jones, is related to her by marriage.
Ms Harrison, who works for the management consultants Durrow, stood down from the £52,000 contract after news of her appointment leaked last week but details of her relationship to Ms Jones have not emerged until now.
A former NHS manager, who did not wish to be named, said: "Ruth Harrison has no real experience in maternity services, so far as I know. I understand she has a living to earn but for her to pitch up in a discipline in which she has no real expertise and then turn out to be the sister-in-law of the person appointing her is absolutely outrageous."
MPs and health campaigners protested at her appointment last week, before they knew of her connection to Ms Jones. The Tories' health spokesman, Stephen O'Brien, accused the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, of "failing to take in hand the merry-go-round of failed bureaucrats in our NHS."
He said yesterday: "What matters is that such jobs or even financial interests are given to a person whose track record was success in previous roles involving similar issues. How many chances are failed executives in our NHS to be given? In any company, such a track record would be curtains."
Michael Summers, of the Patients Association, said: "Patients may think it odd that those in charge of a major hospital leave it with infection rates soaring, leading to deaths and disabilities, and can later go on to obtain employment within the health service, advising patients on their health."
Ms Harrison was severely criticised in a report into C.difficile at Stoke Mandeville , which killed 33 and infected 334 over two years, by the Healthcare Commission, an independent inspectorate. The report, published in July 2006, said there were "serious management failures" when executives failed to follow advice on stopping infections and had "mistakenly prioritised" other objectives such as hitting government waiting list targets and curbing spending.
In a statement, Epsom and St Helier NHS trust said Samantha Jones, the chief executive, had declared her family connection to Ms Harrison to her own board and to the two primary care trusts who had jointly commissioned Durrow to review women and children's services.
"In view of the chief executive's declared position, the decision to appoint Durrow was agreed from an Epsom and St Helier perspective, by the trust chairman, John Davey. Following recent publicity about Ruth Harrison's involvement with the trust. Mr Davey reminded the board of Ms Jones' previously declared link to Ms Harrison at last week's trust board meeting," the statement said.
A spokesman for the trust said Ms Harrison had worked for a number of NHS organisations in a consultancy role since leaving Stoke Mandeville. "For some reason it blew up here. We are the ones who got it in the neck," he said. "This was not just about one organisation saying, 'Hey, come and work for us.' This was three organisations going through a proper tender process which Durrow won."
The review of maternity services by Durrow was continuing, but under the leadership of Nick Relph, a former chief executive of Thames Valley Strategic Health Authority, who had replaced Ms Harrison, he said.