• Trust hires substantive replacement for its acting medical director, after nearly two and a half years in post
  • Current incumbent involved in ongoing diciplinary procedures with troubled heart surgery unit
  • Trust states the move is not related to reviews of the cardiac unit
  • No date set for when new executive takes up post

A troubled teaching trust in south London has hired a permanent replacement for its acting medical director, while it tries to overhaul its dysfunctional heart surgery unit.

St George’s University Hospitals Foundation Trust has announced that Richard Jennings, Whittington Health Trust’s executive medical director, will become its chief medical officer. Its acting medical director, Andrew Rhodes, will step down from that post.

The trust told HSJ it had advertised the post in July, and said that the move was not related to the reviews of the cardiac unit. 

Dr Jennings has been in post at Whittington for the past four years. He comes to St George’s as it tries to grapple with substantial clinical problems. It is in special measures for care quality, and has seen major, high profile disruption in its heart surgery unit over the past few months.

Professor Rhodes, acting medical director since April 2016, has overseen several management decisions and disciplinary procedures involving the surgical team.

Most notable was the decision to suspend two of the cardiac consultants, Mr Justin Nowell and Marjan Jahangiri. Professor Jahangiri successfully overturned her suspension in the High Court in late August, and it is understood Mr Nowell has now also returned to work.

Professor Jahangiri told the court her suspension was the latest episode in years of victimisation by the trust’s management in general, and involving Professor Rhodes. She said it was related to her gender and prowess as a surgeon, and her ethnicity. Both the trust chief executive and Professor Rhodes used their own submissions to the court to refute the accusation they had victimised Professor Jahangir.

Dr Jennings’ start date has yet to be confirmed and Professor Rhodes will continue in his post in the interim.

Professor Rhodes will also continue as a consultant anaesthetist and professor in intensive medicine. Trust chief Jacqueline Totterdell thanked Professor Rhodes in a statement for “the enormous contribution he has made in his role as acting medical director”.

“The organisation is better as a result of his efforts, and his commitment to providing first rate care for our patients,” she added.

She said Dr Jennings was “a fantastic appointment” who “will play a crucial role in our improvement journey as a trust”. 

In July, the Care Quality Commission rated St George’s as “requires improvement”, up from “inadequate”, but it remains in quality special measures.

In relation to the cardiac surgery unit, an external review which reported in June said the trust may need to seek “radical solutions” to break up the team of surgeons.

In recent weeks – since publicity about the suspensions, and a CQC investigation of the unit – St George’s has suspended the most complex surgical procedures, moving the operations to other London trusts; and with Health Education England has withdrawn St George’s four cardiac surgery trainees.

Another London trust is providing St George’s with “on the ground cardiac surgery leadership support” while NHS Improvement has set up a panel of experts to oversee the trust board as it tries to improve and reform the cardiac team.

Updated on 20 September to include additional points made by the trust to HSJ, stating that it had advertised the chief medical officer post in July, and that the move was not related to the reviews of the cardiac unit, and to clarify the appointment is of a substantive replacement.