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NHSE threatened to remove FT’s governors in ‘highly regrettable’ row

Published on: 19 Jul 2023

NHS England London threatened to remove a foundation trust’s governors in a dispute about a new chair appointment, it has emerged.

A letter from NHSE London’s then interim regional director Andrew Ridley to senior officials at Camden and Islington FT – seen by HSJ – warned the delay in naming a substantive chair risked destabilising the organisation, adding it would move the organisation from segment two in the NHS oversight framework to segment three.

NHSE London wanted to appoint a joint chair across the trust and the neighbouring Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust, but the FT’s governors sought to block the move. An FT’s governors have to approve any new chair appointment.

The letter from Mr Ridley, who has since stood down from the interim role, described the situation as “highly regrettable”, but added that if the chair appointment continued to be blocked, “NHSE will consider further action including, if necessary, the suspension or removal of governors”. 

Mr Ridley said the “increasingly significant” risks the trust faced in appointing a chair “have reached a point where the governance of the trust is such that there is a real and immediate risk that the trust will fail to comply with the conditions of the trust’s provider licence”.

In his letter, sent in October but not made public until now, Mr Ridley wrote: “It is unclear to us what, if any, concerns or objections the council of governors has as to the suitability of the candidate for the interim position. Instead of making the appointment, the council of governors has proposed the trust pursue what in all likelihoods will prove to be a further failed attempt to test the market for candidates in extremely short supply and in so doing cause entirely avoidable further delay.”

HSJ has seen documentation suggesting the governors had put forward a shortlist of candidates with ethnic minority backgrounds, and they believed that a condition being imposed on the appointment, that the recruit have previous trust chair experience, was ruling them out.

Peter Molyneux has been interim chair at the trust and BEHMHT since November. It appears NHSE wanted to appoint him permanently, but that the interim arrangement was put in place as a temporary measure.

The policy of Mr Ridley’s predecessor as London regional director, Sir David Sloman, was to have shared chairs across trusts wherever possible.

The two trusts have a shared chief executive in Jinjer Kandola since 2021, and run jointly as the North London Mental Health Partnership.

The trust’s lead governor and chair of the appointments committee Samantha Gordon paid for independent legal advice on the options for challenging NHSE London and told HSJ the trust had withheld its own legal advice from her on the issue. HSJ has seen communication from the trust saying it would not pay for the advice Dr Gordon commissioned from a barrister.

NHSE London and Camden and Islington FT have been approached for comment.