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MPs demand end to bitter infighting at Croydon University Hospital trust

FEARS that bitter infighting between Croydon University Hospital chiefs is undermining patient care have plunged the trust into a fresh crisis - at the end of a year of turmoil. Reporter David Churchill looks at another turbulent week in the life of Croydon's healthcare... CROYDON'S MPs have called for immediate action in the interests of the thousands of people who rely on the former Mayday hospital, which now finds itself without a chairman for the second time this year.

Signs of a feud emerged last Friday after the Advertiser revealed hospital chairman Michael Parker has resigned from his post after less than a year in the job, with another director following suit just days later.

Mr Parker will officially remain on the hospital's board until December 31, but an e-mail seen by the Advertiser, sent by Mr Parker to the rest of the hospital's board, reveals he was "asked" to resign and "advised" to leave immediately, taking holiday and lieu.

The e-mail history also shows NHS London originally planned to issue a press release putting Mr Parker's departure down to "personal reasons". But the story was then changed to "concerns" over governance.

It means the hospital will have had no chairman for three weeks by the time an interim chairman takes over on January 2.

The rift has been between Mr Parker and the current interim chief executive, John Goulston, who have made allegations against each other of "erratic behaviour" and "immoral financial and procedural" actions, the Advertiser understands.

Both men apparently deny any wrongdoing on their part.

Sources have said the rift deepened after Mr Parker made it clear he was against Mr Goulston – who took over as interim chief executive in May – getting the top job permanently.

Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell said: "This is the second time in a relatively short space of time that there has been a breakdown of relations between chief executive and the non-executives [chairman].

"It is really important for healthcare in Croydon that we get some suitable leadership at our local hospital that can help the quality of services and deliver foundation trust status.

"At the very least this is distracting the people who should be focused on improving care and that is why it needs to be quickly resolved."

Richard Ottaway, his Conservative counterpart in Croydon South, echoed these sentiments.

He said: "A lack of continuity at the top is clearly worrying.

"We need strong and steady leadership."

NHS London, the strategic health authority which appoints the chairman at Croydon Heath Services NHS Trust – the trust which runs Croydon University Hospital – this week said Mr Parker had been asked to leave because of "concerns" over the hospital's governance and performance.

However, one source close to the trust has told the Advertiser that Croydon's board of directors is "very angry" with NHS London while calling for current interim chief executive John Goulston to also be forced out.

Mr Parker and Mr Goulston were announced as chairman and interim chief executive respectively in March and have since presided over a number of concerns, which include:

A damning report by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC), issuing two "major impact" warnings – the highest category and unprecedented in the hospital's history

Failing to hit a key emergency services target for the first time in several years after part-privatisation with Virgin Care

This year's financial forecast showing Croydon Health Services NHS Trust is set to make a loss or break even – which would be the first time a surplus has not been posted in six years

Concerns being raised that not posting a surplus of funds will lead to not achieving the "control total" target – an important target in achieving foundation status

"If Michael Parker has to go, then so does John Goulston. He has been acting chief executive while there's been poor performance," the source said.

Karen Jones, a non-executive for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, has also since resigned from her post.

An NHS London spokesman said: "There have been long-standing issues concerning governance at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust.

"In addition, the trust's failure to appoint a substantive chief executive for the past ten months has had a knock-on effect on its finance and performance.

"That is why we have asked Mike Bell, currently vice chair at NHS London, to go in and commission a further independent investigation of the trust's governance arrangements."

Mr Bell will assume the role of interim chairman on January 2.

Folake Segun, co-ordinator at Croydon Shadow Health Watch, an independent group representing patients, feels Michael Parker is a loss to the trust. She said: "We are unhappy to hear about the resignation of Michael Parker as chairman of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust especially at a time of great changes in the NHS. "We have been encouraged by Michael's willingness to put patient participation, involvement and interests right at the heart of the trust. "The NHS in Croydon needs stability among all its partners at this time and we fear that Michael's departure will undermine this. "We hope that for the sake of patients and staff the trust moves swiftly to ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum and that the challenges facing our services are met with a clear vision and leadership." Despite the concerns over poor performance under John Goulston's watch, the Advertiser understands he has applied for the substantive chief executive role, which would see him installed permanently. The deadline for applying the role was on December 12 – the day before Michel Parker was asked to step down. The shortlist for the job will now not be drawn up until January, the Advertiser understands, when standard procedures will be gone through to fill the role. Mr Goulston has a chequered history after leaving his former trust – Barking, Havering and Redbridge (BHR) University Hospitals NHS Trust – with a reported £117 million deficit and questions over standards at the region's emergency and maternity units. Mr Goulston said this week: "My role is, as always, making sure the trust is on top of operational issues and supporting staff to provide the best care possible." He added: "As you are aware there is to be a review in January, led by the trust's new interim chairman. "It would be inappropriate for me to comment until this review is complete. "Instead, my focus is on the here and now to ensure we deliver high quality, safe care for our patients in both hospital and the community."

MPs demand end to bitter infighting at Croydon University Hospital trust

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