Probe into reappointment of health boss

A HEALTH regulator has launched an investigation into how the chairman of a troubled Essex hospital trust came to be re-appointed despite allegations of organisational failures, it has emerged.

Roddy Ashworth

A HEALTH regulator has launched an investigation into how the chairman of a troubled Essex hospital trust came to be re-appointed despite allegations of organisational failures, it has emerged.

Monitor, the UK regulator for foundation hospitals, yesterday confirmed that it was seeking information as to how Richard Bourne was given a second term in the role at the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust (CHUFT) in September.

The reappointment of Mr Bourne, who had been chairman since the trust was granted foundation status in May last year, was formalised just days before Monitor announced it had “serious and extensive concerns” about the way CHUFT was being run.

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At a meeting on September 30 the regulator found the trust “in breach of its authorisation”, meaning it had effectively broken the terms of its operating licence and could face top-level intervention.

Monitor said the trust had failed to ensure patients referred for surgery underwent their procedures within 18 weeks of referral and had subsequently incurred a red rating for governance.

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It also said the trust had failed to keep A&E waiting times below four hours, had missed targets for cancer patients, had an unacceptable mortality rate and was failing to address poor patient satisfaction.

Yesterday a spokesman for Monitor said: “We are considering a range of information about the trust and our concerns about governance there.

“Our board will be addressing whether or not further action is necessary. It has not taken that decision yet.

“We have written to the trust setting out our concerns and the issue of the re-appointment of the chairman is one of them.”

But yesterday the trust said the reappointment had been completely transparent, in line with all relevant rules and had been overseen by the independent Appointments Commission.

The trust has already admitted it faced a crisis in January and February of this year, when it faced unprecedented demands for A&E services, but said that with Monitor's agreement it had set in place a recovery plan that was still on target.

A CHUFT spokesman explained that Mr Bourne - a former Colchester Borough Councillor and Essex County councillor - had played no part in the appointment process which was carried out in accordance with its own constitution.

He said that Mr Bourne was re-appointed after three candidates had been interviewed by a panel made up of the trust's Senior Independent Director, one public governor and one staff governor.

All members of the interview panel had seen a letter from Monitor expressing its concerns about aspects of the trust's performance, about Mr Bourne as chairman, and highlighting the fact the regulator had the power to remove anyone who was appointed.

But despite Monitor's reservations, the unanimous recommendation of the interview panel was that Mr Bourne was the best candidate.

The recommendation of the interview panel was later backed by 15 votes to one at a meeting in public of the foundation trust's members' council, who had also been made aware of Monitor's concerns.

Yesterday, a trust spokesman said: “We are confident that the entire process leading up to the appointment of a chairman was entirely appropriate and complied with national legislation and our own constitution.

“It was overseen by the Appointments Commission, an independent organisation, who had no concerns about any aspect of the process.”

Mr Bourne said: “I was pleased to be appointed by the Members' Council, the majority of whom are elected local public representatives, and it is entirely appropriate that I am accountable to them.

“I accept that if I or the trust do not perform to the satisfaction of the Members' Council, the governors will exercise their powers to remove me.”

Last week the EADT revealed how trust chairman Richard Bourne had privately hit out at Monitor, describing the regulator's methods as “grossly unfair” and “intimidatory”.

In a confidential email sent to senior colleagues in other NHS trusts - and later obtained by the EADT - Mr Bourne accused the regulator of “making threats of various kinds” and said he had heard of other trusts facing similar difficulties.

He wrote: “Our trust has been deemed by Monitor to be in serious breach of its terms of authorisation after an extensive exchange of information.

He added: “In our view the entire process has been disproportionate and grossly unfair and we are likely to make a formal legal challenge.

“The approach also appears to be deliberately intimidatory and they have made threats of various kinds to take action against myself, other directors and governors.”

“We have spoken to other trusts who have previously had dealings with Monitor and have heard similar stories.”

Mr Bourne later stressed that the email had been private and that he considered it “highly inappropriate” for its contents to be made public.

“I sent a confidential email to my counterparts at six other NHS foundation trusts which have also recently had issues with Monitor in order to explore the possibility of sharing experiences with them,” he said.

“The email was not meant for publication.”

A spokesman for Monitor said: “We reject suggestions that we have not been transparent in our approach - we have written to the trust setting out the reasons we found it to be in significant breach and provided a detailed file containing the relevant information.”

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