• Review suggests Matthew Hopkins did not have the “skill set” to lead Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust out of financial special measures
  • Mr Hopkins stepped down from the trust last month, after the review was completed
  • Deputy chair of NHS Improvement said there was no evidence the trust’s former finance director Jeff Buggle had “crossed a professional line”

A review into financial governance failures at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust recommended its chief executive be removed. It also made multiple criticisms of the board.

Matthew Hopkins, who had been chief executive of the trust since 2014, stepped down last month following weeks of negotiations over his position.

His departure followed the completion of a report by Deloitte, which was commissioned by NHS Improvement and has now been published.

The Deloitte report said:

  • Mr Hopkins did not grasp the severity of the trust’s financial situation and was not thought to be able to lead a turnaround process
  • Steve Collins, the former interim finance director, was too inexperienced for the role and had a lack of support
  • The non-executive team should be “refreshed” because they did not respond adequately after being alerted to the cash crisis in August 2017

It follows a separate review by Grant Thornton, commissioned by the trust and published in April, which found patient safety was put at risk by financial governance failings which led to a sudden cash shortfall.

Separately, NHSI said its deputy chair Richard Douglas had examined the role played by Jeff Buggle, who is currently the regulator’s finance director for the London region. Mr Buggle was previously the trust’s substantive finance director from December 2014 to March 2017, before becoming its acting chief executive for four months.

NHSI said Mr Douglas’s work was “based heavily on the Deloitte review” and found “no evidence that Mr Buggle crossed a professional line”, adding that he has “our full confidence and support”. NHSI told HSJ it would not publish this report.

While the Grant Thornton review scrutinised the trust’s finances from 2015 onwards, the Deloitte review focuses on the period from April 2017 onwards, by which time Mr Buggle had ceased being the trust’s finance director (and had become acting CEO for four months).

Regarding Mr Hopkins, Deloitte said he was a visible and respected leader at the trust, but questioned his ability to lead the trust out of trouble.

It added: “We believe there were several occasions when the CEO was alerted to the extent of the looming financial crisis…

“The fact that the CEO did not grasp and respond to the severity of the situation, coupled with the lack of pace in subsequently driving the trust financial recovery plan and low levels of contribution to the finance agenda in observed meetings, raises concerns regarding the CEO’s ability to lead financial turnaround at the trust.

“Whilst recognising the excellent qualities the CEO has brought to the trust, we believe that a different skill set is required to lead the organisation out of financial special measures.”

Of Mr Collins, the trust’s interim finance director between March and December 2017, the report said he had failed to explicitly inform the board of the impending “cash crisis” or the full extent of the underlying trading problem.

But it said there was not an attempt to deliberately mislead, adding: “We are of the view that there was a misjudgement as to the style and level of disclosure to the board, influenced by inexperience and misplaced optimism regarding the likelihood of reaching an agreement with commissioners regarding payment for over-performance.”

Deloitte said the NEDs were “unequivocally made aware of the extent of the looming cash crisis” in an email from Chris Bown, the former interim CEO in August 2017, but “did not respond to this situation in an appropriate manner once Mr Bown had left the organisation at the end of that month.”

They added: “We are of the view that the trust would benefit from refreshing the NED group through adding fresh perspectives, including a change to chairmanship of the finance and investment committee, and developing existing NEDs.”

Deloitte also said it may be “unsustainable” for a trust’s medical director to remain in post after he sought to challenge “inappropriate behaviours” among its medical consultants.

In a statement the trust said it has made significant improvements to its financial processes, controls and governance, as well as commissioning external consultants to support its improvement plan.

CEO failed to ‘grasp severity’ of trust’s financial crisis