A hospital trust’s BME network has said it has “no confidence” in the organisation’s board “to deliver race equality”, following the apparent dismissal of the network’s chair.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust dismissed Vivienne Lyfar-Cissé, who was associate director of transformation at The Royal Sussex County Hospital and chair of the trust’s BME network, in June. She is also chair of the national NHS BME network, according to an online petition calling for her reinstatement.

The trust has declined to confirm whether Dr Lyfar-Cissé has been dismissed, or on what grounds. The web petition states that it came after “being investigated under the fit and proper person regulations in line with the Health and Social Care Act 2008”. It also states she has “been found guilty of serious misconduct” and suggests she was subject to a disciplinary hearing in 2016 for “failing to comply with a reasonable management instruction” and “discrimination and harassment”.

The trust declined to comment on “internal staffing matters”.

The BME network wrote to trust chair Mike Viggers at the end of June to complain about her sacking and said it had “no confidence in the trust board… to deliver race equality”.

The letter says its members believe Dr Lyfar-Cissé’ is “an entirely fit and proper person, [and] the only suitable person to lead the race equality agenda at BSUH”. It said its members are “shocked and outraged” by her sacking.

The letter, seen by HSJ, said: “We find it astounding that the trust board has pursued this action without seeking the views of the BME staff, who will be most impacted by this decision…

“As such, we currently have absolutely no confidence in the trust board and under the current circumstances we do not consider it fit to deliver race equality.”

Meanwhile, the online petition disputes that the fit and proper person director regulation can be fairly applied to Dr Lyfar-Cissé as she is not a “member of the trust board; nor does she perform functions equivalent of similar to the functions of a director”.

The fit and proper person regulation applies to trust staff employed as a “director of the service provider, or performing the functions of, or functions equivalent or similar to the functions of a director.” The Care Quality Commission – which has functions under the regulation – told HSJ it was “up to a trust to decide whether an employee is carrying out a role equivalent to a director”.

Serious concerns about race relations at BSUH were raised in the CQC’s last inspection report on it, in August 2016. The inspectorate reported that BME staff were 2.3 times more likely to face a disciplinary process than white staff, and inspectors were told bullying and discrimination against BME staff “was rife in the organisation”.

The CQC report  said a race equality workforce engagement strategy begun in 2015 and “jointly chaired by the chief executive and the associate director of transformation (who is also chair of the BME network)” had “fallen into disarray amidst a culture of disciplinary action and grievance placing any progress at significant risk”.

The online petition also states that Dr Lyfar-Cisse started work at the trust in 1983, and has previously brought two employment tribunals against it. It said: “In 2007, she won an employment tribunal against the trust for racial discrimination. A second employment tribuna in 2008 for racial discrimination and victimisation… was settled out of court.”