FEEDBACK NON-EXECUTIVES

Published: 16/06/2005, Volume II5, No. 5960 Page 24

Robin Eve, former non-executive director, Surrey and Sussex Healthcare trust

Until 20 May I had been a non-executive director in the NHS for nine years, first at East Surrey Hospital trust, and then its successor Surrey and Sussex Healthcare trust. I have been a deputy chair for the last five years. On 20 May I was dismissed by Appointments Commission chair Sir William Wells.

At the end of April, my fellow non-executives and I were called to a meeting with the chair of the strategic health authority. We were informed that, in view of the public interest report and the trust's deficit (£27m including debts brought forward), he required our resignations - failing which he would request the Appointments Commission to terminate our contracts. I refused to resign.

The public interest report, prepared by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, exonerated nonexecutive directors of any culpability for the deficit. It read: 'The trust set a balanced budget without being confident they could meet it, but the non-executives were very concerned about achievability, because of the scale of the savings required. The trust chair wrote to the SHA on 4 June, before the budget, to express their [the nonexecutives'] concerns about the level of risk.' It is not the trust board that should have been held to account for the financial position. It is the SHA - which receives the same management information as the board - that is charged with performance management.

In his dismissal letter to me, Sir William said 'trust boards are there to take tough decisions'. We took those 'tough decisions' by putting the SHA on notice that the budget was not achievable. To suggest nonexecutives do more is to suggest that they should exercise an executive role. Even if we had been inclined to do this, we were out-numbered and outvoted as the chair supported the executives. We could have resigned at that time, but what would that have achieved?

Janice Turner, 'resigned' non-executive director, Surrey and Sussex Healthcare trust It is difficult to know where to start with Roger Moore's response to my letter on the unfair treatment of non-executives (Feedback, page 18, 2 June).

It is disingenuous of him to try to shift the debate to non-executives whose appointments are terminated rather than the wider issue of how the Appointments Commission achieves its aims of getting unwanted non-executives to 'leave'.

Non-executives are put in a difficult situation when 'asked' to resign. And the alternative, of having the appointment terminated and being barred from NHS appointments for two years - plus the negative connotations of termination - make this a real Hobson's choice.

Resignation is not standing down 'in the best traditions of public service'. It covers a multitude of sins and is far from voluntary.

And how does the present system 'comply fully with the principles of natural justice'?

I am not reassured by the fact that the commission can be subject to judicial review.

Given that this is the only recourse, the commission is acting with reckless disregard for the public purse.

A statutory right to appeal, internal complaints procedures or the appointment of an ombudsman could all negate the need for an expensive judicial review.

See Speak Out, page 25.