More controversy at Blackpool Victoria Hospital amid 'murky process' claims

Pearse Butler is the chairman at the Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Victoria Hospital in Blackpool and the Clifton Hospital in St Annes
Pearse Butler is the chairman at the Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Victoria Hospital in Blackpool and the Clifton Hospital in St Annes

Controversy surrounds the chairman at Blackpool Victoria Hospital once more amid questions over the impending appointment of new chief executive Kevin McGee.

Pearse Butler, whose own recruitment was described as “deeply flawed” in a Parliamentary debate, is now leading a “murky process” to bring in Mr McGee, according to Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden.

But Mr Butler said the trust “followed all relevant procedures” and suggested the right person is about to get the job.

Final touches are being made to an agreement that will extend Kevin McGee’s stay as chief executive, after governors were asked to give their blessing at a recent meeting.

An official announcement, which was expected by now, has been delayed because the decision has yet to be rubber stamped, though the Vic said it should be finalised “very shortly.”

READ MORE:: The temporary boss at Blackpool Victoria Hospital will land the permanent job amid talks of a merger
Mr McGee replaced the retired Wendy Swift in May on a six-month job share basis with the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust – though Dr Damian Riley was charged with running the day-to-day business there.

Mr McGee’s future role in East Lancashire is now unclear, with the trust refusing to say whether he will stay in charge once his Vic appointment is confirmed. Bosses turned to him after abandoning a public search due to being so disappointed in the calibre of applicants for the vacant role.

Mr Marsden hit out at the Vic for being “at best ambiguous and at worst evasive” by refusing to say whether McGee’s appointment would signal the start of a merger between the two trusts, or whether Mr McGee will still be in charge at both.

Demanding “the utmost clarity” over the appointment process, he said: “Is this the prelude to a virtual merger of the two trusts? If so, this has huge implications, given the very different needs of the two areas.

“We know that Mr McGee spoke about that prospect enthusiastically to a national health journal at the beginning of August, over a month before the trust chairman Pearse Butler recommended him to governors.

“Yet none of this process was disclosed either to myself or to other MPs in the area who are stakeholders, as far as I am aware, until it had been rubber stamped at a governors’ meeting and then conveyed to us by telephone.”

He criticised the controversial process for a lack of transparency and said Mr Butler’s involvement in it “beggars belief” since it comes just a year after his own appointment was scrutinised during a special Parliamentary debate raised by the Blackpool South MP.

At the time, the then-health minister Stephen Barclay said the issues raised were a “cause for concern”.

During the debate, ex-boss Wendy Swift was criticised for sitting on the panel that picked her new boss, while there were also allegations of “irregularities” and of some governors feeling “intimidated” or “gagged”.

READ MORE:: Blackpool hospital chief under fire for 'deeply flawed' selection process of her own boss
The hospital said Mr Butler’s recruitment was “undertaken fully in line with the trust’s constitution”, with governors making the decision – not Ms Swift.

She stepped down from the panel following intervention by Mr Marsden, who today said: “Lessons have not been learned.”

In response to Mr McGee’s appointment, Mr Butler said: “The trust went out to national advert for the role of chief executive but did not find a candidate that we felt had the necessary experience at this time.

“We took expert advice from the regulators and followed all relevant procedures with a formal process of approval with NHS Improvement. We also involved the Integrated Care System for Lancashire and South Cumbria in the process.

“This is an important time for the trust and it is vital that we get the right person who has a track record of improving services for patients and staff into the role.”

Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said: “It is important to have the right person heading up our hospital team, driving forward improvements for patients.

"If it is not possible to find the right person, a shared chief executive is an acceptable compromise, as an interim solution.

“However, I do not believe there should be any merger between trusts. It is important the Blackpool trust remains an independent body.”