Whittington Health v Ryhurst: ‘Direction of travel’ was towards ditching estates plan months before announcement, court hears

Defend the Whittington Coalition campaigners protesting outside of the High Court. Picture: Sam Volp

Defend the Whittington Coalition campaigners protesting outside of the High Court. Picture: Sam Volpe - Credit: Archant

Whittington Health bosses knew “the direction of travel” was towards abandoning plans for an estates partnership with contractor Ryhurst months before the decision was officially announced in June 2018, the High Court heard last week.

The NHS Trust's former chief finance officer Stephen Bloomer gave evidence to Judge Stephen Davies on Thursday, and under cross-examination explained hospital execs had begun considering alternatives to the SEP plan as early as January 2018.

The proposed ten-year deal was scrapped in June that year after campaigning from the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition (DWHC) and local MPs.

Sarah Hannaford QC, representing Ryhurst, asked Mr Bloomer why, in January and February that year, he had ignored repeated requests for updates on the status of the deal from Ryhurst execs. It had been awaiting approval from NHS Improvement (NHSi) but even when this was, she said, given, Ryhurst were not updated.

Mr Bloomer responded: "The fact is we were were not in a position to sign the contract at that point. In my view that's the truth." He explained this was because the NHSi approval letter had discussed the importance of having stakeholders onside which he considered "a condition, in not-so-many words".

The barrister said: "At that point you were thinking that the direction of travel was abandoning the SEP."

Mr Bloomer agreed with this.

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Ms Hannaford then raised an email exchange between Mr Bloomer and Sophie Harrison - another trust exec - about "tactics" for dealing with abandoning the SEP. Asked about this, Mr Bloomer said: "What tactics do I recall? It's clear from that point in time I was starting to have real doubts about and SEP. I am starting to think 'what are our alternatives?'."

Alleging that this new "condition" from NHSi was only something the trust worried about when looking to abandon the deal, Ms Hannaford said: "You didn't think this was a problem until your were coming up with reasons to avoid the SEP."

Mr Bloomer denied this, saying it was "simply not true".

Non-executive directors of the trust board Deborah Harris-Ugbomah and Anuradha Singh - who is currently the interim chair of the trust - also gave evidence on Thursday.

Earlier in the trial, the court heard how Ryhurst allege that the trust had concocted "sham" reasons for pulling out of a controversial plan to sign up Ryhurst as a "strategic estates partner", when political pressure regarding the role of its sister company Rydon in the final refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower in Kensington before the tragic June 2017 fire which claimed 72 lives.

The trust denies this and maintains that it's reasons for ditching the deal - before it was ever signed - were those it disclosed to Ryhurst at the time. Barrister Jason Coppel QC also argued that the trust was entitled to decide not to proceed with a procurement deal if it saw fit.

The trial continues.