It’s not often that a minister of the crown is happy to abolish his or her role, but Tasmania’s health minister Lara Giddings is an exception.

Kevin Rudd won the 2007 federal election promising to end “the blame game” between states and the Commonwealth. He vowed to increase funding to states, but take control of public hospitals if they failed to lift their performance. Giddings wants none of that: she wants a total takeover.

Scrutiny of performance is not, it appears, one of her strengths. A British report has revealed that the person she appointed as secretary of her department, David Roberts, previously headed one of the most controversial hospitals in the United Kingdom. And the person she appointed as a deputy secretary, Alice Burchill, was a senior executive.

Roberts was chief executive officer of University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire National Health Service Trust, for five years from June 2002 until July 31, 2006. Burchill — then Alice Casey — was chief operating officer until December 31, 2006. Coventry and Warwickshire was named as one of seven public hospitals in the UK with a consistently higher mortality rate than the national average, for five years to March this year.

Giddings appointed Roberts in August 2007, while Burchill was appointed last year to the newly created position of deputy secretary, care and reform. They were at the helm of the UK hospital for roughly half the period covered.

The annual Dr Foster Hospital Guide, released in November and compiled by Dr Foster Intelligence, is based on a range of indicators including death rates, infection rates, patient safety and staffing levels.

The UK’s Care Quality Commission head, Baroness Young, told the BBC that some of the Foster data was “very legitimate” while some was “quite alarmist”. Patients’ Association director Katherine Murphy told the UK’s Telegraph that it was shocking that any hospital could operate with high mortality rates for five years. “Until such time as individuals are held to account this terrible situation is not going to change,” she said.

The UK’s Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, has ordered an urgent investigation to establish if action needs to be taken, while the Conservatives have called for an overhaul of the inspection system.

Roberts and Burchill were involved in the five-year suspension from Coventry and Warwickshire of heart surgeon Raj Mattu, which cost British taxpayers an estimated £5 million.

Dr Mattu was suspended four months before Roberts took over as CEO, allegedly for bullying two junior doctors. His supporters claimed he was suspended for publicly revealing practices that endangered patient safety. Roberts maintained the suspension, which was lifted by his successor on the day his contract ended.

The suspension was the longest and costliest in the history of the UK’s National Health Service.

Crikey went to minister Giddings for comment but her office did not respond before deadline.

Peter Fray

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