An integrated care board announced the appointment of an interim chief executive – who led a health board in Wales at the centre of a maternity scandal – only for her to withdraw about two weeks later, it has emerged.
Devon Integrated Care Board staff were told in mid-August that Allison Williams had been chosen to be interim chief executive officer for what it said would be a “brief period” after its current chief executive Jane Milligan retires on 31 October, and before a substantive leader is appointed.
Devon ICB is one of the NHS’ most challenged systems, facing significant financial and performance challenges and is subject to the highest level of scrutiny under NHS England’s performance regime.
Following the internal announcement in mid-August of Ms Williams’ appointment as interim CEO, HSJ was contacted by ICB staff with concerns. After this, on 1 September, staff were told Ms Williams would no longer take up the interim role.
The ICB said in a statement to HSJ that Ms Williams had been discussing the move with colleagues over the last couple of weeks and was unable to commit to being full-time in Devon as she lives in Wales.
It said she had been working with the ICB on a part-time basis over the last two years, supporting its recovery programme, and would continue to work with its senior team in her current capacity.
The ICB has not announced any substantive appointment so far, nor any replacement interim.
Ms Williams was previously chief executive of Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, a post she held from 2011 until 2019, after which she stepped down after a period off work on long-term sick leave.
During her time as chief executive, Cym Taf was the subject of an independent investigation by the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which found that dozens of stillbirths and neonatal deaths went unreported in the maternity wards of the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant and Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil. The service was placed in special measures, where it remained for over three years.
Ms Williams said in interviews after the review was published that there was “absolutely no doubt we’ve failed people” and she faced pressure from local politicians to resign.
A nurse by training, she was also director of primary, community and mental health for Cwm Taf from 2009, and worked in the strategy unit of the Welsh Assembly Government Department of Health and Social Services, as well as in other senior board-level positions.
It comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of senior NHS appointments, following the Lucy Letby scandal in Chester, and national officials reconsidering the regulation of senior NHS managers.