• NHSI vetoed Norfolk and Suffolk trust’s preferred candidate
  • Regulator instead appointed interim to take on role part-time
  • Trust says it “welcomes” arrival of regulator’s interim choice

A special measures trust has been forced to accept with “reservations and reluctance” a regulator’s decision to veto their choice for a new chair and instead parachute in an interim, trust meeting minutes have revealed.

At its December meeting, Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s governors raised concerns that NHS Improvement’s intentions to intervene over their appointment choice – which the trust had been recently informed of – could be “politically motivated”.

According to minutes published in January, governors were also frustrated the lengthy recruitment process, which involved an external recruitment agency, has been “wasted”. 

Six out of 17 governors abstained from a vote about the principle of accepting an interim chosen by the regulator in December, although they were not aware of the identity of the regulator’s candidate at this stage.

NHSI subsequently appointed respected sector leader Marie Gabriel in January as interim part-time chair. She will retain her existing job as chair of “outstanding” rated East London FT – a role she has held since 2012.

Ms Gabriel succeeded Gary Page, who left ahead of a highly-critical Care Quality Commission report in November, which said the trust should remain in special measures and prompted calls for the trust to be put in the failure regime. It was first placed in special measures in 2015

The meeting minutes said: “Concerns [about NHSI’s appointment of a new part-time chair] included the effect this decision may have on service users and carers, whether the decision by NHSI was politically driven [and] the disappointment at the wasted work that had gone into the recruitment.

“A vote took place and 11 governors of the 17 present voted in favour of the interim chair role and to offer the preferred candidate a non-executive director role, with the remaining governors abstaining.

“Ultimately, it was decided with reservations and reluctance to accept the intention of NHSI to appoint an interim chair for a mutually agreed timeframe.”

The regulator was prepared to offer the trust’s preferred candidate a non-executive director role but not as chair “at such an uncertain time for the trust”, the minutes said. 

The trust told HSJ it welcomed Ms Gabriel’s appointment, and highlighted that the governors had not been aware of NHSI’s interim choice at the time of registering their dissatisfaction.

The trust said in a statement: “[Ms Gabriel] brings with her a wealth of experience after spending more than six years at the helm of a mental health trust which is rated ‘outstanding’, and we look forward to drawing on her knowledge and expertise as we continue to drive through improvements locally.”

Trust joint lead governor Howard Tidman said: “I welcome Marie’s appointment, particularly because of the extensive mental health experience that she brings to the role. Although she has been in post for only a month, I can already see improvements in how our board of directors is performing under her leadership.”

NHSI declined to comment.