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Lead governor’s suspension over vice-chair row a ‘terrible move’

Published on: 3 May 2024

The lead governor of a foundation trust has been suspended after she criticised the handling of a recruitment process to appoint its vice chair, HSJ has discovered.

North London Mental Health Partnership took the decision against Samantha Gordon following an extraordinary council of governors meeting on 26 March.

NLMHP comprises Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust and Camden and Islington Foundation Trust. Ms Gordon is the lead govenor of C&IFT. 

Governors were asked to vote on extending non-executive director Charles Waddicor’s term for another three years at the meeting. They were also asked to appoint him as interim vice chair, while it was decided how to find a substantive replacement.

HSJ understands Ms Gordon told the meeting that more time was needed to assess the extension of Mr Waddicor’s term, as well as the proposal to appoint him as vice chair. She felt the latter did not need to happen because several NED candidates had already been interviewed, with the intention of making one of them vice-chair. 

NLMHP chair Lena Samuels told the meeting of governors she had not foreseen that Mr Waddicor’s term would need to be extended, but had since concluded that all the skills required by the trust were not there yet within the remaining NEDs.

Ms Gordon wrote to Ms Samuels ahead of the 26 March meeting and claimed statements regarding the suitability of the candidates was “a breach of the 2010 Equality Act”.

She said the decision not to appoint one of the new NEDs as vice chair was “made without the involvement of [governors’ nominations and remunerations committee] members and likely to be illegal if any of the relevant candidates wished to mount a challenge”. 

Mr Waddicor is white, while all the NED applicants — including the two selected — had African or Afro-Carribean heritage. 

Following the meeting, Ms Samuels filed a formal complaint against Ms Gordon, which led to the govenor’s suspension.

The suspension notice said Ms Samuels’ complaint raised a case of possible gross misconduct and that deputy lead governors Nicholas Russell and Olga Cecilia Farach “appear to corroborate the complaint”.

It also said there was a potential risk of “serious disruption” to the trust’s board and council of governors because of an intention to initiate a vote of no confidence “without reasonable grounds to do so”.

The complaint alleges Ms Gordon’s conduct prevented Ms Samuels from chairing the meeting effectively, caused emotional distress, and affected her sleep. The initial suspension has been extended until 20 May and an investigation has been launched by the trust.

However, another governor described the suspension as a “terrible move” and “not right” in correspondence cascaded to governors following the decision, which has been seen by HSJ.

A fourth governor said: “I truly believe no one wishes chair Lena Samuels to feel distress and experience loss of sleep, and I am really sorry she felt this way.

“But in the same time [sic], we… have to ask the tough questions and then address the issues we believe [are] affecting us all as a [foundation trust], or what on earth are we doing here?”

NHS England London threatened to remove the governors amid a dispute about a new chair appointment, warning delays in naming a substantive chair risked destabilising the organisation.

NLMHP told HSJ in a statement: “We can confirm a formal process is under way and it would not be appropriate to comment further until this is concluded.”

Ms Gordon declined to comment.