• Former senior employee accused Sir Leonard Fenwick of bullying in the run up to the chief executive going on extended leave
  • A letter, seen by HSJ, alleges the NHS’s longest serving chief executive was a bully, abusive and made inappropriate comments
  • It is not known whether the bullying allegations are connected with Sir Leonard going on extended leave

A former senior employee made accusations of bullying against the NHS’s longest serving chief executive Sir Leonard Fenwick in the run up to him going on extended leave, HSJ has learned.

In a letter to Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust chairman Kingsley Smith, seen by HSJ, the former employee of the trust accused Sir Leonard of bullying, abusive behaviour and making inappropriate comments concerning a member of staff’s daughter and a senior person in the NHS nationally.

The letter, which was also sent to the trust’s human resources director, was sent shortly before the individual left the organisation in January. The FT confirmed Sir Leonard had gone on extended leave on 12 January.

The letter, seen by HSJ, alleges:

  • Sir Leonard engaged in bullying and abusive behaviour towards the employee in public on multiple occasions;
  • Staff emails were read or “interrogated” by Sir Leonard; and
  • Sir Leonard made inappropriate comments concerning a member of staff’s daughter and a senior person in the NHS nationally.

Another well-placed source also told HSJ about this complaint, but it is not known whether the matters are being investigated or not.

It is not clear whether the bullying allegations are being cited as the reason for Sir Leonard’s absence.

HSJ also reveals today that Sir Leonard applied to be considered to take over as chair from Mr Smith, who was due to retire as chair in September last year, but NHS Improvement said it had “very real concerns” about the process for this, saying it was not acceptable. No appointment was made and Mr Smith’s term was extended.

Meanwhile, there have been reports this week of claims about the reasons for Sir Leonard’s departure, which do not relate to the allegation of bullying. Reports published yesterday included the suggestion that Sir Leonard was “’pushed out” of his job after he suspended senior consultants who used hospital premises to have sex”.

Sir Leonard has been chief executive of the high-performing trust for many years, and has in recent years been a vocal champion of its independence.

One of the city’s MPs, Nick Brown, wrote to the trust’s chair Mr Smith last month to ask for transparency about the reasons for the suspension.

The foundation trust has given no reason for the leave of absence nor said whether it expects him to return. It has said his duties are being covered by business and development director Louise Robson and medical director Andrew Welch.

A spokeswoman told HSJ, in relation to the allegations: “Staff matters are confidential so it would be inappropriate for us to comment on these allegations.

“However, when a complaint is made about the behaviour of any member of staff we always take those concerns extremely seriously, and carry out a full and thorough investigation in line with trust policies, national guidance and employment law.”

The spokeswoman said: “Sir Leonard Fenwick is still on a period of extended leave. Arrangements are in place to cover his role during his absence, and again it would be inappropriate for us to comment publicly on the reasons for his absence.”

HSJ understands that the FT approached NHS Improvement for advice in relation to Sir Leonard around the beginning of the year, but did not ask for it to make a regulatory intervention.

When Sir Leonard was first confirmed as being on extended leave, NHS Improvement issued a statement saying Newcastle FT’s chair and non-executive directors were holding “the executive” to account on “behalf of patients and taxpayers”.

The statement added that NHS Improvement chief executive Jim Mackey had “recused himself from any involvement” in the issue. Mr Mackey is on secondment from his post as chief executive of neighbouring Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust, and is due to return later this year.

Sir Leonard is the longest serving chief executive in the NHS, and has been one of the most prominent. His trust is one of a handful to be rated “outstanding” by the Care Quality Commission.

HSJ made attempts to contact Sir Leonard prior to publication but has not received a comment from him.

Meanwhile, in another statement issued to media and published yesterday evening, the FT said it believed that ”in the public interest we no longer have any other option but to confirm that Sir Leonard has been placed on a period of extended leave to allow an independent investigation to be carried out into a number of very serious issues raised by different sources that were brought to the attention of the trust”.

It said: “The on-going investigation is being carried out by a highly regarded HR specialist, who is independent of the trust and from outside of the region.”

In apparent reference to the suggestion he had been “’pushed out’” of his job after he suspended senior consultants who used hospital premises to have sex”, the statement said: ”The trust strongly refutes any suggestion that this current situation is in any way connected to the handling of any internal disciplinary matter that has featured heavily in a number of recent newspaper articles.”

The statement also said: “Sir Leonard’s leave is in line with the trust’s HR policies and is no indication that the matters raised against him will be correct. Placing him on a period of extended leave is an entirely neutral act.”

This story was updated at 8.05am on 9 March to include the FT’s statement to media published on the evening of 8 March.

Bullying allegation raises questions over Sir Leonard’s absence