United Kingdom

Royal College of Nursing secretly paid former boss a £135,000 payoff over links to Charles' donor

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Dame Donna Kinnair faced an investigation over claims that she had accepted hospitality from financier George Farha while on holiday in Morocco

The head of the Royal College of Nursing was suspended amid concerns over her friendship with a multi-millionaire businessman who donated to one of Prince Charles's charity projects.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Dame Donna Kinnair faced an investigation over claims that she had accepted hospitality from financier George Farha while on holiday in Morocco.

She was also accused of holding four meetings with then Health Secretary Matt Hancock without telling RCN officials and for failing to declare earnings from other organisations.

There was shock in June when Dame Donna – who was recruited by the RCN in 2015 to improve its reputation and was later awarded a damehood by the Queen – stepped down from her £197,000-a-year job as chief executive and general secretary.

The nursing union's 465,000 members were told she was leaving after 'a period of ill health' – but knew nothing until now of the disciplinary investigation.

Within a fortnight of the probe being launched, the RCN and Dame Donna struck a deal for her to walk away with a £135,000 payoff and an understanding that the entire episode would be kept secret. Dame Donna, 60, now has a role with the Burdett Trust for Nursing, a charitable trust.

An insider said: 'I was livid when I found out and no doubt members will be too when they hear this. Nurses deserve better.

'It is particularly sickening at a time when nurses are facing some of the toughest challenges in their career, dealing with a pandemic while genuinely suffering personal financial difficulties. We expect RCN staff to be working 100 per cent for our members, not using their position to suit themselves.'

Concerns over Dame Donna's conduct emerged when she took time off work earlier this year after being involved in a bicycle accident. A source said: 'When colleagues tried to fill in for her, they naturally checked her emails and that was when the really worrying questions began.'

There was shock in June when Dame Donna (pictured) – who was recruited by the RCN in 2015 to improve its reputation and was later awarded a damehood by the Queen – stepped down from her £197,000-a-year job as chief executive and general secretary

Dame Donna was suspended with 'immediate effect' on June 14 as staff began investigating the disciplinary allegations.

Dubai-born Mr Farha, who had previously agreed to give £90,000 to help fund a 'nurse cadet' scheme suggested by Prince Charles, is understood to deny ever holidaying with the former RCN chief or having paid for a holiday or any gift for her.

Officials discovered that Dame Donna was also a director of SH:24 – a company which provides tests for sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptive pills and emergency contraception – and had believed she had been working for them alongside her full-time job at the union. RCN officials believed that Mr Farha may have had a commercial interest in SH:24 or its subsidiaries. Mr Farha denies this.

At the start of the Covid pandemic, his pizza takeaway company was bizarrely handed a £135,000 contract to provide PPE equipment to the Government. The firm changed its name from NKD Pizza International Ltd to NKD International Ltd two days before the contract was awarded.

It is understood Mr Farha, a businessman with experience of supply chains, was approached by the Government for help with the PPE crisis during the pandemic. The financier told officials he had no experience with PPE but managed to source 10,000 surgical gowns for the NHS.

A source close to Mr Farha says the businessman lost money on the deal but regarded it as a charitable donation. Mr Farha, who was appointed a Commander of the Order of St John in June for his 'outstanding support' to St John Ambulance, declined to comment and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by him, Mr Hancock or Prince Charles.

The affair is, however, deeply damaging to the RCN, which moved its annual conference online following claims of sexual harassment, staff walkouts and financial mismanagement. The organisation, whose patron is the Queen and whose members pay annual fees of up to £200, has made financial settlements totalling £1.3 million to departing staff over the past five years.

There has been a bitter row at the top of the RCN in recent months. Its chairman, David Dawes, was suspended last month over claims he was 'hostile' to women – which he denies. The RCN last night said Mr Dawes had 'led the decision making' to launch an investigation into Dame Donna.

A spokesman added: 'The RCN has announced the appointment of Bruce Carr QC to examine the culture and management of the organisation. We are determined to address standards that fall short of members' expectations.'

The revelation threatens to tarnish Dame Donna's stellar record in the healthcare sector. As well as advising a commission on the future of nursing and midwifery, she helped with the Lord Laming inquiry into the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, who had been neglected and abused.

Dame Donna did not respond to requests for comment.

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