Exclusive: NHS boss urged to quit in row over bullying

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A SENIOR councillor has called on a health chief to resign after claiming he was the victim of a “vexatious” complaint aimed at undermining a campaign to maintain services at a Yorkshire hospital.

A draft official report has exonerated John Blackie, a member of North Yorkshire County Council and Richmondshire District Council’s leader, after he was the subject of a formal complaint of bullying during heated public consultation over a proposed shake-up of maternity services at Northallerton’s Friarage Hospital.

Coun Blackie has now called on Henry Cronin, the lay chairman of Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group, to immediately resign and take no part in imminent key decisions on the proposals. He claimed an attempt had been made to abuse the complaints process to derail reasonable opposition to the plans.

North Yorkshire County Council received a complaint from Mr Cronin in October that Coun Blackie had breached the code of conduct which states councillors must not treat others with disrespect or bully or intimidate them. He specifically alleged that Coun Blackie had accused NHS staff of being “dishonest” during a public meeting at Richmond School and called “into question the integrity” of the Hambleton Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

He also alleged Coun Blackie had been disrespectful after asking the chair of a meeting at Northallerton to “sit down” and objected to a post on the “Save our Friarage” Facebook Group which described the CCG as a “local NHS that lacks the commitment to its local communities”.

But after reading transcripts and hearing recordings from the meetings, the council’s deputy monitoring officer, Stephen Knight, concluded: “I have found no statement by Councillor Blackie in the transcripts of these meetings in which NHS staff are accused of being dishonest; or which calls into question the integrity of the Hambleton Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group and its team; or which says that the CCG are lying to the public.

“What is clear, however, is that Coun Blackie has not been convinced and does not believe that the primary reason for not continuing with consultant led children’s and maternity services at the Friarage Hospital is a safety rather than financial reason.”

Mr Knight also found the exchange with the chair of the meeting was “reasonably calm in tone” and rejected the complaint the Facebook comment had treated anyone with disrespect.

In a letter calling for Mr Cronin to resign, Coun Blackie said: “By mounting a vexatious, politically motivated and completely unsubstantiated attack on their elected councillor who was merely standing up to be counted for the very communities he represents and putting forward its views at a public consultation event, and seeking to discredit my integrity, credibility and reputation by making false accusations in complaints about me, your HRW CCG has also gone out of its way to attempt to undermine and dilute the message the local communities wanted to input into the consultation.”

In a statement, Mr Cronin said: “North Yorkshire County Council has shared a draft report, which the CCG considers to be confidential as it is marked ‘NOT FOR PUBLICATION’. Therefore we do not feel it is appropriate to comment on its findings at this time until we have fully considered its contents.”

The release of the findings comes at a sensitive time for the CCG, which is about to make a final decision on a planned overhaul to end 24-hour consultant cover for paediatrics at the Friarage Hospital, which would have a knock-on impact on maternity care.

NHS leaders have claimed consultant-led services are not clinically sustainable owing to staffing and recruitment issues. But the plans have provoked an outcry as pregnant women due to have complicated births would have to travel to hospitals as far afield as Darlington and Middlesbrough.