• Health minister highlights “clear irregularities” in the recruitment of new Blackpool Hospitals chair
  • Trust’s chief executive was a member of the nominations committee
  • The trust is now reviewing its constitution
  • NHSI asked to provide clearer guidance on recruitment processes

Regulators have been asked to provide new guidance on board appointments after concerns were raised about “clear irregularities” in the recruitment of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust’s new chair.

Following the intervention of a Blackpool MP, it emerged that the trust’s chief executive Wendy Swift was on the nominations committee convened for the appointment of the trust chair.

A government minister told a parliamentary debate on the matter yesterday that it was “clearly difficult to reconcile the involvement of chief executives in the process of selecting chairs with principles of good governance,” although he accepted the trust had not breached the existing guidance.

Ian Johnson, the trust’s previous chair, moved to University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay FT in January, where he replaced Pearse Butler. Four months later, in May, it was announced that Mr Butler would be the new chair of BTHFT.

Pearse-Butler

Pearse Butler became chair of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals FT in May

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden told yesterday’s debate that the recruitment process had resembled a “cosy old pals act”, and raised concerns that the trust’s council of governors was treated as an “inconvenient necessity” rather than a meaningful body.

For foundation trusts, the council of governors must ratify the candidate put forward by the nominations committee, following a selection process.

When Mr Marsden raised concerns with the trust about Ms Swift being on the nominations committee, she stepped back from the process prior to final interviews taking place and did not vote on the appointment.

Junior health minister Stephen Barclay said the trust had followed the process set out in its constitution, which lists the chief executive as a member of the nominations committee.

But he added: “NHS Improvement guidance states that a foundation trust’s chief executive should not be permitted to vote on the appointment of the chair to whom he or she will be accountable.

“However, in this case, the chief executive was on the nominations committee for this role. While she did not breach the guidance, it is clear to me that if a chief executive should not vote on the appointment of the chair, it follows that a chief executive should also not be involved earlier in the appointments process, given the relationship of accountability that exists between chief executives and chairs of NHS trusts and foundation trusts.”

He said this instruction was contained in guidance from 2012, however, other pieces of NHSI guidance did not contain similar advice. He said he has asked NHSI to refresh its guidance on the topic as part of an ongoing review into its role in board appointments.

He also added that NHSI would apologise for its response to Mr Marsden when he raised concerns, as the regulator had failed to refer to its own guidance. The regulator had told Mr Marsden it was “not involved in the recruitment of chairs of foundation trusts”.

The trust has confirmed it is reviewing its constitution.

Mr Barclay said an independent assessor on the nominations committee, the chair of Salford Royal FT, had agreed to Mr Butler’s nomination and had not raised objections about how the recruitment process was run.

He added: “I have had a personal assurance from [Ms Swift] that there has been no contact between her and the [independent assessor], and that she has not in any way tried to influence the decision making process leading to the chair’s appointment.”

In a letter to the minister, Ms Swift confirmed that she knew Mr Butler on a professional basis prior to his appointment, as they had worked in the same health economy for around eight years over a 16 year period.