A heavily-criticised health trust has defended its payments of millions of pounds to consultancies run by professional contacts of under-fire chief executive Katrina Percy.
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust has been the subject of independent government reviews since it was revealed it failed to investigate the unexpected deaths of hundreds of its patients between 2011 and 2015.
Southern Health has said it employed management consultancy Talentworks Ltd after it won a tender worth £288,000 for a three-year contract with a one-year extension.
But the company, created by Chris Martin, went on to carry out further work for the Trust, with its final earnings totalling £5.36 million.
Southern Health said that the "bespoke leadership development programmes" run by Talentworks had been highlighted by the Care Quality Commission and had been praised within the NHS - and added that the work had not gone over budget, but the payments had been for extra work.
The second consultancy employed by Southern Health was Consilium Partners, run by Paul Gray, which provided "longer-term strategic and annual plans", earning it £600,000 during a five-year period.
Both Mr Martin and Mr Gray had previously worked with Ms Percy in her previous employment.
Mr Martin provided leadership consultancy work for Ms Percy (pictured) and her team when she worked at Surrey and Sussex Hospitals, and again when she worked as chief executive of Hampshire Community Health Care.
Mr Gray worked with Ms Percy as director of strategy at Hampshire Community Health Care.
A Trust spokeswoman said: "The individuals running both these companies had worked with the Trust's chief executive officer, Katrina Percy, in a professional capacity when she was employed by other NHS organisations.
"This is not unusual given the specialist services they provide to the NHS. We refute in the strongest possible manner any suggestion that these relationships were anything other than professional.
"The Trust takes its financial responsibilities very seriously, and will continue to invest in additional services and support where it is believed there is a clear benefit to our staff and patients."
Defending the use of the two consultancies, the spokeswoman added: "Talentworks is an organisation of experts in culture and behaviour change, and Consilium Partners Ltd is a specialist health strategy consultancy. Both of these companies have worked with Southern Health since it came into existence in 2011 and are two of a number of external companies that the Trust sometimes works with to complement its own internal teams.
"Talentworks have developed a number of bespoke leadership development programmes that have been delivered to managers and teams across the entire Trust. Our staff are our most important asset and all the evidence suggests that investing in their development is crucial and leads to better outcomes for patients.
"The Talentworks programmes have been highlighted as good practice by the Care Quality Commission in previous inspections, won the Trust the Guardian Healthcare Innovation Award in the leadership category and have been showcased as best practice at the Foundation Trust Network (now NHS Providers) annual conference in 2014. They consistently receive positive feedback from staff who use the skills acquired to improve the way in which their services are run.
"The amount the Trust spends on the leadership development programmes delivered by Talentworks is less than half a percent of our annual budget, and whilst this is not an insignificant sum of money, the rationale for investing in programmes of this nature is firmly backed up by the evidence.
"We fully accept that the original contract for Talentworks was for a sum far less than the eventual spend, however it was made clear in the tender documentation that there would be scope for additional work to be provided. The Trust's Audit Committee were aware of the contract development but were satisfied that the market rates had been tested and that for a number of reasons, it was in the best interests of the Trust for their work to continue.
"When the contract was re-tendered for a larger value in 2015, Talentworks were again found to be the most competitive offering in spite of competition from a large number of other companies. This outcome demonstrates that there was no loss of value for money for the Trust through allowing the original contract value to be exceeded.
"Consilium Partners Ltd, which was previously known as Consilium Strategy Consulting Ltd, has been used by Southern Health over the years to provide additional capacity for the development of longer-term strategic and annual plans for the Trust. We have spent around £600,000 on its services over the last five years and tested the market to ensure value for money in 2011. There has been no increase in rates since this benchmarking exercise took place."
Southern Health is a mental health trust providing services to 45,000 people across Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c).