The “deeply flawed” recruitment process at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, which saw chief executive Wendy Swift sitting on the panel that picked her new boss, has been changed.
A debate in Parliament over the recruitment of chairman Pearse Butler earlier this year heard allegations of “irregularities” and of some concerned governors feeling “intimated” or “gagged”.
It led to Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden (below) calling for an inquiry into the process, which followed Ian Johnson’s departure.
The hospital’s board of directors has now rubberstamped new recruitment rules, which governors called for and approved earlier this month. It followed an earlier pledge to review the process, though Vic bosses have always maintained Mr Butler’s appointment was “undertaken fully in line with the trust’s constitution”.
“The trust constantly reviews its constitution and has liased with governors and bodies such as NHS Improvement to look at guidance in relation in relation to the appointment of chairs and non-executive directors in the future,” a spokesman said.
“As a result some changes have been made to the constitution, which have been approved by the governors and the Board. We hope these changes will add clarity to the appointments process going forward.”
The new rules state:
* A ‘nominations committee’ will pick up to five candidates when the position of chairman next becomes vacant, and can consult with an independent expert to “identify the skills and experience required”;
* The chairman of the committee will be the deputy chairman, a senior independent director, or another non-executive director, unless they have a conflict of interest or are standing for appointment;
* The committee will also feature the lead governor, deputy lead govenor, three public governors, one appointed governor, and one staff governor;
* The candidates will be interviewed by a panel of deputy chairman, and a senior independent director or another non-executive director, unless there’s a conflict of interest or they are standing for appointment;
* The ‘appointments panel’ will also have three public governors, an appointed governor, and one staff governor.
* It will invite a chairman from another hospital trust to act as an independent assessor; and
* The voting members of the nominations committee and the appointments panel will only be the governors.
Mr Marsden previously said: “The chair of any health trust is crucial, particularly in the difficult circumstances in which the Blackpool trust finds itself: still requiring improvement, according to the Care Quality Commission, and hit hard by the strains of morbidity and the impacts of transcience and demography, which put extra pressure on.
“We therefore need the process for the appointment of a chair or non-executive director to be as transparent and reaching-out as possible, not a cosy old pals act reinforced by groupthink.
“I am forced to conclude the nominations committee thought it could get away with evading proper scrutiny and transparency.”
Fylde MP Mark Menzies previously said he found it “most strange the chief executive of any organisation can take part in the appointment of their own employer”, and Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said he was “concerned the recruitment process has undermined confidence in the appointment”. He said: “I have met with the new chairman of the hospital trust and have already been reassured the selection procedure will be reformed.
“I listened carefully to the Health Minister’s comments on the floor of the House of Commons. I therefore welcome any changes that will bring clarity and transparency to future appointments.”
Fleetwood MP Cat Smith had also described the process as “inappropriate”.
In January, former chairman Ian Johnson said he would be stepping down at Easter to take over as chairman at Morecambe Bay’s hospital trust.
Mr Marsden, and other local MPs, were invited to discuss Mr Johnson’s successor, but he told Parliament he was given an “entraordinarily short period of time” to do so.
After asking for more details about the shortlist, interviews, and interviewing panel, Mr Marsden said he got a “slightly thin but soothing note” from governor Michael Hearty, the chairman of the nominations panel.
He confirmed the recruitment process would be “very speedy” and said a “long list of candidates” had been put forward, Mr Marsden told the debate.
“But this list was not actually very long,” he said. “It was a list of only eight, which makes me wonder why all the candidates were not interviewed.”
Mr Marsden said there were still “serious questions” to be answered. He was later told the nominations panel had been appointed by the governors – and that Ms Swift was on it.
He told MPs the trust’s constitution and the manual of the council of governors gave conflicting advice over whether Ms Swift should have sat on the committee, but her inclusion, he argued, meant there was a “significant danger the clear protocols in the governors’ manual had been breached”.
Following his intervention, Ms Swift stepped down from the committee – but Mr Marsden said by then it was too late, with Ms Swift having “taken part in three quarters of the process”.
He also said he was told “by a number of people” the hiring process had been “rather irregular”.
“According to governors, not only did Michael Heart ignore the request from three governors for a secret vote, but he said that abstentions would count as a yes vote, which struck me as a rather strange position,” he told Parliament.
He also said the use of the words ‘highly confidential’ by lead govenor Sue Crouch could be “seen as an attempt to intimidate or gag governors who had legitimate concerns about the process”.
“I am very concerned about that,” he added.