MPs call for ambulance board to go
PUBLISHED: 13:15 19 June 2013 | UPDATED: 14:42 19 June 2013
A radical overhaul of the leadership of the region’s struggling ambulance service is imminent after MPs took the unprecedented step of writing to board members and telling them to quit.
Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey and Witham MP Priti Patel sent letters to all five non-executive directors of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust’s (EEAST) board accusing them of letting the public down after a damning review last week accused the leadership of a lack of focus and being too weak.
The letter was sent on June 13 and yesterday the board’s chairman said two of the directors would leave when their terms end this summer.
And he added he was reviewing the board’s leadership which includes the positions of the non-executive directors.
In the letter, the MPs told the directors, who are supposed to scrutinise the work of the under-fire trust, that it was “scandalous” they were still in their posts after the highly-critical report was released last Tuesday.
The review into the service by chief executive of the West Midlands Ambulance Service, Anthony Marsh, described the board as developing a “sense of helplessness”.
In letters to vice-chairman Paul Remington and fellow non-executive directors Caroline Bailes, Phil Barlow, Anne Osborn and Margaret Stockham as well as to the NHS Trust Development Authority, the MPs accuse the board of a “culture of incompetence” and an “unwillingness to get to grips with the problems”.
As highlighted in the EDP through the Ambulance Watch campaign, concerns have been raised in several cases about patients dying following poor ambulance responses.
Board members are meant to hold the trust to account but the MPs accused the non-executive directors, who receive £6,096 a year for the part-time roles, of failing to challenge and scrutinise the trust’s officers.
The letter reminds the members that their role involves “far more than merely nodding through reports at board meetings”.
It continues: “The board is simply not capable of turning the trust around and getting the most out of the brilliant frontline staff while inept non-executive directors remain in post. The people of east England deserve better and it is scandalous that they are continuing to pay for you and your fellow non-executive directors when you have not demonstrated the competence and leadership the trust needs.”
Maria Ball, chairman of the trust’s board, quit in March and since October 2012 six board members have left.
The imminent departure of Mr Remington and Ms Bailes will mean that five board members remain in place from October 2012 when the trust’s chief executive Hayden Newton left.
They are the remaining three non-executive directors as well as director of emergency operations Neil Storey and director of strategy and business development Adrian Matthews.
Dr Coffey said she wrote the letter as she was “surprised” that the non-executive directors had not all resigned in the wake of the Marsh report.
She said: “The report is a damning indictment of the poor level of governance that has been going on in the Trust for some time.”
Ms Patel added: “It’s time for the board to be refreshed and it is disgraceful that these individuals are refusing to do the decent thing and resign.
“Instead of providing leadership they allowed services to deteriorate and patients’ lives to be put at risk.”
Dr Geoff Harris, who was appointed as chairman of the EEAST in May, said he was reviewing the “capability and capacity” of the trust’s leadership as a priority.
He said: “This review must be undertaken in a measured way, based on a proper skills audit of board members to establish the leadership needed to run the trust effectively, as well as skills needed to run services sustainably in the future.”
Denise Burke, chairman of North Norfolk Labour Party and from the Act on Ambulances campaign added: “We are pleased to see regional MPs now also are calling for the board of directors at the East of England Ambulance Service Trust to consider their positions.”
To read the letter in full (PDF), see the Related Links section to the top-right of this story.