South Devon Healthcare Foundation Trust has appointed medical director Dr John Lowes as its interim chief executive following the suspension of incumbent Paula Vasco-Knight.

As reported in HSJ, Dr Vasco-Knight was suspended after a tribunal found evidence that the trust had covered up claims of nepotism against her.

Dr Lowes will act as interim chief while the trust conducts an investigation into the claims.

An employment tribunal in January found that the trust had hid nepotism claims against Dr Vasco-Knight after two whistleblowers accused her of giving a job to her daughter’s boyfriend, Nick Schenk. The whistleblowers felt he was under-qualified for the position.

The suspension of Dr Vasco-Knight has been described by the trust as a “neutral act and has no bearing on the outcome of the process”.

The leadership team has seen several recent changes. Its chair Peter Hildrew resigned immediately after the employment tribunal’s ruling. His replacement, acting chair Topsy Murray, resigned after just eight days for health reasons.

And the trust board voted last week to commission auditors to carry out a governance review of the trust. It is not yet clear which auditing company will do this review or how much it will cost.

Acting chair of the trust, David Allen, said: “The interim clinical leadership Dr Lowes provides is invaluable for the trust during the absence of our chief executive, Dr Paula Vasco-Knight.

“Our plan is to create a single integrated care organisation which revolutionises health and social care services for our community.

“Dr Lowes has been involved with this project from the outset.

“As a highly respected doctor and an outstanding clinical leader, he is ideally placed to provide the strategic leadership that we need as Interim chief executive during Dr Vasco-Knight’s absence.”

Dr Lowes studied medicine at Cambridge University and specialised in gastroenterology. He has been a consultant at Torbay Hospital for more than 20 years and its medical director since 2009.

Speaking of his appointment Dr Lowes said: “As a longstanding member of our health community, I am delighted and proud to have this opportunity to lead the trust on an interim basis at this challenging and exciting stage of its development.

“I am passionate about system change for the benefit of patients. My two immediate priorities are to take forward the integrated care organisation and to improve the patient experience in our emergency department.”