Monitor has launched an investigation into the governance of prestigious cancer specialist, the Christie Foundation Trust, the watchdog announced this evening.

The health sector regulator said the probe would examine concerns that the board of the Greater Manchester trust was not functioning well enough and had “not adhered to the required corporate governance standards”.

The intervention comes at a difficult time for the management of the Christie.

Its chief executive Caroline Shaw has been suspended from her post since December, while the trust conducts investigations “as part of a disciplinary process”. And last week its chairman, Lord Bradley, indicated his intention to resign as and when a replacement could be found.

Meanwhile, patient safety group Patients First this week wrote to health secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for an investigation of “very serious” allegations of bullying, intimidation and dismissal of whistleblowers at the trust.

The letter, seen by HSJ, called for the health secretary to “ensure an urgent independent investigation to be conducted by CQC and Monitor into the allegations we have received which appear to include both the attempted suppression of protected disclosure and serious matters of governance”.

However, HSJ understands that the concerns which led to Monitor’s decision to launch a probe did not come from the Department of Health. The primary cause was conversations the regulator had with non-executive directors at the trust, which apparently left Monitor in no doubt that it needed to quickly begin an investigation of governance at the trust.

The statement issued by Monitor this evening said its investigation would be “into the governance arrangements at the trust, and not the allegations which led to the suspension of the chief executive last year”.

A spokesman for The Christie said: “We welcome this involvement, which follows Lord Bradley’s decision last week to step aside from the Chairman’s role when a replacement is selected.

“The Trust has had recent dialogue with Monitor and looks forward to working constructively with the regulator and is hopeful this will contribute to a swift and satisfactory conclusion.

“The Trust’s and charity’s activities continue to be delivered to the very highest standards, and patients, families and carers can be reassured that this situation in no way affects or compromises patient care.”