Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust boss faces review over law degree

By Nikki Fox & Matt Precey
BBC Look East

Image source, LinkedIn
Image caption,
Mason Fitzgerald's "qualification" had appeared on numerous official documents

The incoming chief executive of an NHS trust in special measures faces an inquiry into his qualifications, the BBC can reveal.

Annual reports submitted to parliament state Mason Fitzgerald holds a Master of Laws (LLM) from the University of Georgia in the US - though the university said he did not graduate.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) said a review had begun.

Mr Fitzgerald said he could not comment while that took place.

"There is an ongoing review, and it is therefore not appropriate for me to make a public statement," said Mr Fitzgerald, who is currently NSFT deputy chief executive.

The degree qualification appears on at least three annual reports submitted by both NSFT, a mental health trust, and the East London Foundation Trust, where Mr Fitzgerald was previously director of corporate affairs and director of planning and performance.

The error was described as "very embarrassing" by Roy Lilley, a former NHS trust chairman and health policy commentator.

He said: "It is, to put it mildly, very disappointing. It's also very stupid and it's also very unnecessary and it's very embarrassing for everybody.

"Frankly, I think somehow or other we should go back through the audit trail and find out what's gone wrong. The assumption is that somebody has not checked."

Image source, Livermore Family
Image caption,
Doreen Livermore, pictured with her great-grandson Michael, suffered from dementia and died in January 2018

The family of Doreen Livermore, who questioned the trust's culture after a PR manager last year boasted of having "got away with" minimal media coverage of the 89-year-old's death, said the mistake raised further concerns.

"It's a lot of public money going into these posts and I think we have a right to demand that the people that take on these jobs are completely transparent and trustworthy," said her son Roy Livermore, of Snettisham in Norfolk.

"In a situation like this, where the [chief executive] is going to be responsible for a huge number of people throughout Norfolk, it's a scandal really."

In a joint statement, the Norfolk and Suffolk and East London NHS Foundation Trusts said: "An independent review of the concerns raised is being conducted and it would be inappropriate to comment further until that is concluded."

'Did not graduate'

Mr Fitzgerald is due to take up the leadership role at NSFT in April, where he will oversee an annual budget of approximately £260m.

A reference to his LLM is included on a paper submitted to a healthcare journal by the East London Foundation Trust, where Mr Fitzgerald worked before he joined NSFT in 2019, and was also on Mr Fitzgerald's LinkedIn profile.

In response to the BBC's inquiry, the university said: "Mason Fitzgerald attended the University of Georgia from 1999 through spring 2000. Two semesters completed.

"He did not graduate but was in the law school graduate program."

The BBC has confirmed Mr Fitzgerald's Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree with the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, but he currently does not have a licence to practise in the country. It has not been possible to confirm whether he held a previous licence, owing to the country's privacy laws.

A filing on the New York State Office of Court Administration also confirmed he had registered as an attorney there in 2001, where online records show the University of Georgia listed as his law school.

Image caption,
The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust said an independent review has begun into the claims

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust is currently rated as "requires improvement" by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The watchdog said in January that while NSFT had "made significant improvements", failure to manage risks had led to patients self-harming and having to wait too long for assessment.

In 2015, NSFT became the first mental health trust to be placed in special measures and was rated "inadequate" on three occasions by the CQC.

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