Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Coming soon to the US?

The English press have a love-hate relationship with the National Health Service.  On one day, you might find a story about the extreme dedication of a given nurse who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help a sick or disabled old man or woman. On the next, you’ll find an article excoriating the system and its leaders for allowing long wait times at the A&E's (emergency rooms). And during an election campaign of the sort now taking place in the UK, both extremes are presented almost every day.  And that’s in the responsible press. The tabloids even more so.

Knowing this, I should not have been surprised to find a story in the Daily Mail with the dual headline:

Greed of the NHS Fat Cats
High Rollers Who Are Never Paid Through The Books

The thrust of the story was to expose senior level managers who had been hired as contract employees by several of the NHS hospital trusts that were facing financial or operational difficulties.  This happens from time to time.  As the chairman of one trust said, “It was clear that we needed a high caliber individual to successfully steer the trust through some extremely challenging times.”

The Mail’s complaint goes to the level of pay offered to these turn-around agents.  Also, it raised concerns that several of them took their jobs under the auspices of private companies. Accordingly, payments for taxes, pensions, and the like were made by companies the executives own rather than by the trusts. (This is legal, but the Mail calls it morally wrong.)

Stories about salaries of corporate executives are always grist for the media’s mill, and my point today is not to question the editorial judgment of a newspaper that decides such matters are newsworthy. Indeed, stories about high salaries for executives when nurses and other staff have faced salary freezes can be quite compelling.

No, what really struck me was how inflammatory the reporters and editors chose to be in the extraneous material they inserted into the story. Ultimately, the story was about the lifestyles of the executives.  I don’t know, but perhaps it was designed to tap into some sense of latent class warfare.

I had heard about this technique before in other stories in the UK tabloids, but I had never read those stories as closely.  I offer some examples here as a “public service” to hospital executives in other countries, like the US, where such media practices might spread.

Here’s one:

Mr. Reading, who enjoys regular family holidays to exotic locations such as Antigua, where he can be seen posing on beach, as well as Thailand and Majorca . . .

Facebook provides good source material, too:

Just 12 days [after starting her NHS assignment on July 15], she was away in the Costa del Sol, according to her Facebook page. ‘On holiday,’ she wrote from Competa, a picturesque village in Southern Spain. ‘Got the most fabulous villa.’

Only 11 days later, Miss Ruskiewicz, 53, updated friends on her indulgent summer travels—from a nail salon in California.

‘Recovering with a mani pedi,” she boasted after a day in the Redwood national park.

The hospital boss, who has two daughters and lives in a £1.25 million four bedroom house in West London also went to the Indian Springs Resort and Spa in Napa Valley.  The luxury hotel, where rooms for a night cost between $359 (£239) and $999 (£665), specializes in mud bath treatments.

During her time in the city the extravagances continued . . . staying at the Queensbury Hotel, where rooms cost between £175 and £489 a night and a tasting menu at the restaurant costs £70 a head.

The Mail does include these quotes from Miss Ruskiewicz before going on to the next executive’s story: “I took a pre-booked holiday during that period.  My holiday time was not charged to the trust but was taken on my own time. I did not take any leave from the trust. I claimed no expenses or allowances from the trust.”

Mr. Morgan . . . recently sold his Texas mansion for nearly $2 million (£1,338,000).  It is clear from his Texan home that he is making the most of his lucrative career traveling across America and the UK as an interim hospital boss.  His huge family mansion has views over picturesque Lake Conroe, with its own jetty, two jet skis and a boat lift. It also has an infinity pool with Jacuzzi and fountains.

The five-bedroom house has sprawling manicured gardens. Photographs from inside show an extravagant spiral staircase, marble floors, chandeliers, grand oak furnishings and antiques throughout.  There are sunbathing terraces with palm trees and a games room with a huge television and pool table.

Then there is Mr. Hurst:

Pictures he posts online of his travels include shots of him stroking a cheetah in South Africa.

And Mr. Miller, who

[L]ives with his second wife Lucy in Ealing, West London, in an area where the average property price is in excess of £1.7 million.

And finally:

Sandy Spencer, who has been pictured posing in a fascinator and drinking wine on holiday, appears to live the life of a socialite. In fact, she has made her wealth by merry-go-rounding as a freelance NHS boss.


nonlocal MD said...

I don't see much difference between this and the recent WSJ article on 'whatever happened to the mansions purchased by now-jailed corporate executives."(Madoff, Koslowski, Kenneth Lay, etc.)
We somehow expect people connected to the health industry to behave better. Sadly, your blog and others have shown that to be an illusion.

Paul Levy said...

Those guys were convicted, though! These NHS people are law abiding folks. The depiction of their personal lives by this newspaper is meant to be inflammatory, I think.

You raise another issue, though, the corporatization of health care and many within it: Where, as the old joke goes, "business ethics" is an oxymoron. A shame that those who behave in that way cause spillover bad feelings towards the many dedicated people in the field.

Bob said...

The British continue to live under the shadow of an intractable class system, which makes the NHS an icon of equality, but which makes those who take advantage of it a scourge.

Deb said...

Perhaps the view of the journalist as capitalizing on the gross inequity between tiers of healthcare professionals is too cynical?

Providing a platform to address the changing relationship between morality and legality is a valuable service towards advancing civic involvement.

When such a disparity in quality of life can be sustained in full accordance with the law, the laws themselves should suffer rebuke, not the few opportunities for transparency and dialogue.