Leeds pathology boss resigns over Australian cancer tests fiasco

A LEEDS hospital boss has resigned after being heavily criticised over a scandal involving bungled cancer tests in his previous job in Australia.

Ken Barr
Ken Barr

Ken Barr, general manager for pathology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, was sacked from a similar role in South Australia when the prostate cancer testing blunder affecting 52 men came to light.

Now he has resigned from his position in Leeds following publication of a report vilifying the management of his former organisation SA Pathology.

Leeds hospital chiefs said Mr Barr had told them about the issue but had expected to be cleared of blame by the report, so he was offered a six-month contract which began earlier this month.

Ex SA Pathology Chief Ken Barr before flying out to the UK. Picture Dylan Coker

He previously worked as executive director of Adelaide-based SA Pathology, which provides pathology services for South Australia.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that some men in the state had received false positive results because of an issue with prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing kits used by SA Pathology between November 2015 and March this year.

That meant 52 men who had previously had prostate cancer received inaccurate test results, including one who underwent unnecessary radiation treatment.

It was announced in April that Mr Barr had been sacked and an independent investigation was ordered.

Ex SA Pathology Chief Ken Barr before flying out to the UK. Picture Dylan Coker

An SA Health spokeswoman told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Mr Barr’s employment at SA Health was terminated for failing to advise of the systemic problem of PSA testing at SA Pathology and failing to respond in a reasonable way to the incident.”

The spokeswoman said he also “failed to appropriately manage other serious issues” including the installation of covert cameras to monitor staff at SA Pathology last year.

Following his dismissal, Mr Barr spoke out, saying he had been made a scapegoat and “sacked as a warning to everyone else”.

On August 1, a review into the cancer testing error by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare found significant flaws at SA Pathology under Mr Barr and said management, governance and accountability were “seriously deficient”.

South Australia Health Minister Jack Snelling said at the time: “It clearly shows these errors should have been detected long before they were and that when they were identified the response or lack of, by Mr Barr was incompetent and didn’t address the wellbeing of the innocent patients caught up in this.”

After the YEP asked Leeds Teaching Hospitals about Mr Barr’s appointment, it was announced he had resigned.

In a statement, which was agreed with Mr Barr, Dr Sally Lane, clinical director for pathology, said: “Mr Barr was interviewed in April 2016 for a post as general manager starting in August.

“He provided good references showing he was qualified to undertake the role here in Leeds and was the preferred candidate at a competitive interview.

“At the time of the interview Mr Barr was open and frank with the panel that his contract as Executive Director for SA Pathology had ended three months earlier than planned.

“He explained that an investigation was underway about how failures in reported PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test results had been handled by SA Pathology, but he expected this would exonerate his actions. On that basis the Trust offered him a six-month contract pending the publication of the report.

“The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare report on this matter has now been published and includes some criticism of SA Pathology’s governance and management.

“While Mr Barr is concerned there are inaccuracies in the report which may be open to challenge due to lack of supporting evidence, he has concluded that in the light of this criticism and in order to avoid any risk of damage to the reputation of Leeds Teaching Hospitals he should not continue his six-month contract as general manager for Pathology.

“He has therefore offered his resignation with immediate effect and this has been accepted by the trust.”