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Campaigners cry foul as Aberdeen health bosses cleared of ‘most significant wrongdoing’ on GP practice overhaul

Jonathan Juel-Beer and campaigners protesting change at Old Aberdeen Medical Practice have branded the investigation a "whitewash"
Jonathan Juel-Beer and campaigners protesting change at Old Aberdeen Medical Practice have branded the investigation a "whitewash"

An independent investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Aberdeen health bosses over a controversial overhaul of GP practices has been branded a “whitewash”.

An external probe into the decision-making around changes to six authority-run medical centres cleared Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership (ACHSCP) chiefs of the most significant charges they faced.

In December, bosses ruled Old Aberdeen, Carden, Camphill, Marywell, Whinhill and Torry medical practices would no longer be run by the public authorities, instead opting to look at finding privately-run GP partnerships to take them over.

The move would bring them in line with all other practices in Aberdeen, and the majority across Scotland.

Last night, a spokesman for the Save Old Aberdeen Medical Practice campaign said: “‘We thought the investigation might have got to the truth, but the report was a whitewash with vital evidence being withheld from patients, and ACHSCP refusing to even apologise to patients for the mistakes they were found to have made.

“We aren’t satisfied and we’ll take this to the ombudsman.”

Senior ACHSCP officers had been accused of misleading during a make-or-break meeting on the future of the practices, having a conflict of interest and failing to afford sufficient weight to patient care, while the conduct of the councillor chairing the meeting, Sarah Duncan, was brought into question too.

The external investigator, appointed by ACHSCP, did not uphold any of those claims – though in a confidential version of the report seen by The P&J, highlighted she had no jurisdiction to review the conduct of Ms Duncan or other members of decision-making body, the Integration Joint Board (IJB).

Lead protestor Jonathan Juel-Beer said her admission was “very disturbing” and questioned the credibility of the independent review.

He added: “I will pursue a number of issues with how this investigation was conducted with the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

“The investigator told me in our meeting, and in the summary which I received, that this would have to be pursued with the Ethical Standards Commissioner, which I will now do.”

The investigator did partially uphold a complaint about how staff votes – which overwhelmingly showed workers were against the tendering process –  were considered, another about whether the proper impact assessments were carried out, and found ACHSCP’s complaints process had not been followed.

She ruled speed and timing, during the pandemic, of the rejig was acceptable.

Her report made four recommendations, including board members should undergo refresher training on registering their interests, consider surveying staff instead of using votes, to make equality and human rights impact assessments publicly available and to regularly review ACHSCP complaints procedures.

Despite the expert’s findings, all nine GPs at Old Aberdeen quit as the practice’s fate became clear last year.

Protestors have claimed the Sunnybank Road medical centre – one of the city’s largest as it serves thousands of university students – should be excluded from the process.

They argued it was already sustainable and therefore should be excluded from a reorganisation aimed at improving sustainability; but the investigator said she had seen evidence which assured her the centre’s outlook was not as healthy as previously thought.

An ACHSCP spokesman said: “Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership accepts the findings of the independent investigation, which did not uphold the most significant complaints.

“We will adopt all of the report’s recommendations for improvements to some of our processes.”

He stopped short of apologising for the complaints which were upheld.

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