Shamed NHS chief’s advisory role at Leeds university revealed

Paula Vasco-Knight and her brother (right) and her husband Stephen (centre behind) leaving Exeter Crown Court.  Pic: Claire Hayhurst/PA Wire

Paula Vasco-Knight and her brother (right) and her husband Stephen (centre behind) leaving Exeter Crown Court. Pic: Claire Hayhurst/PA Wire

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A former NHS chief executive who fraudulently paid her husband more than £11,000 from her budget had an advisory role at a Yorkshire university while the investigation into her was going on, it has emerged.

Paula Vasco-Knight will be sentenced next month after admitting the fraud while in charge of South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.

University of Leeds Business School, where Paula Vasco-Knight had a role as visiting fellow.

University of Leeds Business School, where Paula Vasco-Knight had a role as visiting fellow.

She paid her husband, Stephen Vasco-Knight, £11,072 to produce a document named Transform, meant to improve leadership qualities in CEOs.

But the 200-page document was never made and Mrs Vasco-Knight failed to declare any interest in her 46-year-old husband’s company.

After being approached by The Yorkshire Post, the University of Leeds has now revealed that the 53-year-old was an unpaid visiting fellow at its business school from June 2014 to September 2015.

A university spokesman has said it has found no evidence officials were aware of allegations of fraud during her tenure, though the investigation by NHS Protect started in March 2014 and continued into 2015, while she was still in her post.

It is apparent that she was taken on in good faith and we have found nothing to indicate that the University was aware of allegations of fraudulent payments.

University of Leeds Business School spokesman

But in an email from 2014 seen by this newspaper, the business school’s dean Professor Peter Moizer defended her appointment despite her previously having been the subject of an unrelated high profile employment tribunal.

Dr Vasco-Knight previously worked at Torbay and Devon NHS Foundation Trust, where she became the first Black and Minority Ethnic female chief executive of a foundation trust in 2008.

In the January 2014 new year’s honours list she was awarded a CBE for her work across the NHS, both as an ambassador for equality and diversity within NHS England and as an innovative chief executive.

She led the trust to win the HSJ organisation of the year award and was NHS England’s national lead for equality.

Peter Moizer ,  Dean of Leeds University Business School.  January 6, 2009.
Picture Bruce Rollinson

Peter Moizer , Dean of Leeds University Business School. January 6, 2009. Picture Bruce Rollinson

But her time at Torbay and Devon was marred by an employment tribunal, where she was criticised for her treatment of two whistleblowers who raised concerns about her recruitment of her daughter’s boyfriend to a job at Torbay hospital.

The allegations of nepotism led to her suspension from her job in February 2014. In May that year, Vasco-Knight resigned.

But she pointed to an independent report commissioned by a former chair of the trust prior to the tribunal which found no evidence that she had breached trust policies.

Professor Moizer replied in September 2014 to a message from Dr David Senior, a retired consultant anaesthetist, who questioned whether Dr Vasco-Knight’s appointment at Leeds would damage the reputation of the university.

He wrote: “We did know about the allegations against Dr Vascoe-Knight (sic). We have worked with and known Dr Vascoe-Knight for some years at the Centre for Innovation in Health Management.

“She has been a well-respected leader of healthcare, with a real concern for patients. At CIHM, we worked with Dr Vascoe-Knight in her work leading the national Equalities and Diversity strategy, and in bringing her integration experience to Leeds.”

He added: “The employment tribunal was as you say extensively covered in the press. It is sad that the independent investigation which exonerated Dr Vascoe-Knight, was not equally covered in the press, and that her significant achievements for patients were also overlooked.

“She was offered her job back as CEO as a result of these investigations, but has chosen to return north to be closer to her family where she is now working.

“We have talked extensively with Dr Vascoe-Knight about the allegations and we are satisfied with the investigation’ outcome.

“We are sad that these circumstances have overshadowed her significant work for patients and for the NHS, which are of real value to our work in securing real change for patients and their carers.

“We, as you would expect, also took up references, and ensured that our own local health leaders who support the University were supportive of her appointment.

“All our dealings with Dr Vascoe-Knight to date have been beneficial to our work and to our client’s work.”

A visiting fellow is a scholar from an institution who visits a host university and is projected to teach, lecture, or perform research on a topic the visitor is valued for.

The University of Leeds said in a statement that Dr Vasco-Knight was an unpaid visiting fellow from June 2014 to September 2015. She was not an employee of the university and the role was advisory in nature.

A spokesman said: “Having reviewed this matter, it is apparent that she was taken on in good faith and we have found nothing to indicate that the University was aware of allegations of fraudulent payments. She is no longer involved with the university.”

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