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Cath Everett

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Controversial HR outsourcing leads to NHS resignation

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The head of an NHS membership body has resigned after the organisation was criticised for its handling of a project to provide outsourced HR services to the health service.
 

Steve Barnett, chief executive of the NHS Confederation since February last year and former NHS deputy director of HR, quit following a critical report of its proposed Member Model Project. The ambitious plan had been to turn NHS Employers, a body that represents Trusts in England on workforce issues and is itself part of the NHS Confederation, into a provider of HR services for those Trusts.
 
But the Confederation pulled the plug on the pay-as-you-go HR services initiative in March. The move was made after fewer than 20 Trusts signed up to the initiative and the Department of Health (DoH) decided to re-tender the NHS Jobs web site, which was to play a key role in service provision. Such services would have included criminal record checks, e-recruitment, a jobs board and HR support hotline.
 
Critics claimed, however, that the scheme’s pricing structure was too inflexible. The DoH also raised concerns about conflicts of interest in the way that contracts were negotiated. A leaked report from auditors, PKF, likewise indicated that the Confederation’s Trustee’s were “misled” about the extent of expenditure on the scheme, which amounted to £3.4 million when it collapsed.
 
The Confederation’s director of policy Nigel Edwards will act as interim chief executive until a permanent replacement for Barnett is found. Barnett said that after recent conversations with the organisation’s new chairman Keith Pearson and following careful consideration, he intended to leave his post at the end of June.
 
“While I cannot and should not accept responsibility for the actions or omissions of others, I have never shied away from or attempted to dispute the fact that accountability for oversight should properly rest with me as CEO,” Barnett said. “With a new Chair in place, and following the departure of the former Director of NHS Employers, the appointment of a new chief executive will allow the organisation to move forward with a fresh senior team at the helm.”
 
Former NHS Employers’ director Sian Thomas left the organisation earlier this month to set up a social enterprise body called Synuron, which is offering similar services to Trusts as the doomed Member Model Project. Six Trusts have already signed up, including Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
 

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