The chair of East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust, Niall Dickson, has taken a voluntary period of absence, with his deputy standing in, HSJ has learned.

HSJ is not aware of the reasons for Mr Dickson’s absence but understands that an allegation was recently made about his conduct.

Mr Dickson strongly denies this allegation. He believes that the only allegation made to the trust about him is part of a campaign of harassment against him, and that it has not been raised directly by an alleged victim. HSJ has not been able to confirm the source or veracity of the allegation.

Mr Dickson remains in his role as chair and has not been suspended from the trust.

An email seen by HSJ from deputy chair Stewart Baird said Mr Dickson “has informed the trust that he has requested and taken a period of absence”.

The email, sent to the FT’s governors last week, said: “He remains the chair but as his deputy I will assume the majority of his responsibilities for the time being.”

It is the latest development in a difficult few years for East Kent FT, whose maternity services were criticised in a high-profile independent report last year. Two of its maternity units were rated “inadequate” by regulators earlier this year, and there has been substantial turnover in its senior management.

The trust’s annual members meeting went ahead on Thursday evening with its senior independent non-executive, Olu Olasode, chairing. It was held virtually and questions had to be submitted privately and could not be seen by others attending. One attendee told HSJ they felt “shut down” and the trust was “in damage limitation mode”.

Mr Dickson is the former chief executive of the King’s Fund, the former chief executive of the General Medical Council and a former BBC social affairs editor. He led the NHS Confederation between 2017 and 2020.

Asked for comment, Mr Dickson confirmed in a statement to HSJ  that he had requested and taken a period of absence from his role and that he remains chair of the trust.

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