Published: 12/12/2001, Volume II2, No. 5835 Page 6 7

A trust chief executive is fighting back after being forced out of his job following investigations into the trust's waiting-list figures. He claims he has been 'scapegoated' for raising the issue himself.

Jeff Chandra, who was already suspended, is pursuing a claim of constructive dismissal against Good Hope Hospital trust after resigning his position on Monday 2 December. The trust denies constructive dismissal and says it sacked Mr Chandra on Tuesday 3 December after a disciplinary hearing held in his absence found him guilty of gross misconduct and bringing the trust into disrepute.

Mr Chandra said people inside the trust had told him the situation 'required a public hanging'.

The trust, which leapt from one to three stars in this year's performance ratings, faces possible downgrading because of a combination of waiting-list problems and a poor report from the Commission for Health Improvement, the Department of Health has confirmed.

An investigation by Birmingham and the Black Country strategic health authority, carried out after Mr Chandra was suspended in August, found that 30 inpatients had waited over 15 months and six outpatients had waited longer than 26 weeks and that their length of wait had not been correctly reported to the trust board or the DoH.

The SHA report said: 'There have been some fundamental failures in senior management, corporate and clinical governance procedures.'

Trust chair Sir Bernard Zissman said: 'There is no allegation that he [Mr Chandra] has manipulated waiting lists. I want to emphasise that.' Nor was he being accused of 'dishonesty at any level'.

He said: 'What We are saying is he knew about it but did not take firm enough action to deal with it. He failed to inform the board properly of the seriousness of it.'

'The panel felt that as a result of actions he did or did not take, he is the accountable officer and he has brought the trust into disrepute.'

But Mr Chandra said he rejected 'outright' both the suggestion that he had not taken sufficient action and that he had failed to inform the board.

He claimed that he originally raised questions over waiting lists in August 2001 and had initiated internal audits and brought in external support from the Modernisation Agency, the national patient access team and consultants. 'I wholly reject the notion that I wasn't giving it sufficient attention, ' he said.

'I reject that, but I also have to say not everything could be done straight away.

'We just did not have the resources, and at meetings with the trust board and the SHA I made this clear. We were doing it as quickly as we could.'

He added: 'I personally kept the chairman very fully briefed about it.' There were also 'very full' reports to the board, he said.

Following the internal audit launched by Mr Chandra, trust operations director Kate Brady was suspended. She resigned in May 2002. Sir Bernard acknowledged last week that Mr Chandra had instigated the audit that resulted in Ms Brady's suspension, but said her resignation was 'the end of the matter'.

Mr Chandra said: 'When problems do arise it seems the system is such that It is not acceptable to find the problem and deal with it.

If you find a problem it is almost like, 'well it must be your fault' and you take the hit.'

He added that the SHA team had not spoken to him or 'other key players' during its investigation.

Mr Chandra said he was forced to resign because of a series of concerns about the disciplinary process, including having to face charges relating to list manipulation, despite the trust's public statement that he was not being accused of this.

Sir Bernard said he felt the disciplinary process was sound.

The trust was one of 13 identified by the National Audit Office in December 2001 as having more than 10 per cent of the waiting list suspended or where 2 per cent of patients were waiting more than a year.

The DoH found no inappropriate adjustments in the subsequent review.

ltash. shifrin@emap. com