Controversial Basildon hospital boss set to quit

THE Chief Executive of Basildon and Thurrock Hospitals Trust, Alan Whittle, is to leave his post reports the Thurrock Enquirer.

Mr Whittle has been at the helm as the much criticised hospital has stumbled from crisis to crisis over recent years but today staff were told that he would be leaving at some time in the future, though not until a replacement has been found.

The press office at the hospital has declined to comment on Mr Whittle’s departure, other than to confirm that it will happen in the future.

However, the Enquirer has seen the message given to staff by Board of Governors chairman Peter Dixon, which says: “After 23 years at the Trust, with eight as chief executive, Alan Whittle has decided to step down later this year. I would like to express my gratitude to Alan for his devotion to the hospital and for all that he has achieved, not least in the improved performance we have seen across many areas in the last two years. I would also like to thank him for agreeing to stay on until a successor is found.

“With a new group of non-executives taking up post shortly, now is the right time for a change in the executive leadership of the Trust as it moves on to the next stage of its development. It has been a tough time for everyone at Basildon and we have made considerable progress, but there is still more to do, to reach where we would like to be.

“We shall be looking for an exceptional individual to take on the challenge and work with the executive team and non-executive board members to continue our progress.

“I am sure that everyone at the Trust will join me in supporting Alan in business as usual as we go forward.”

Over recent years the Basildon Hospital has been subject to a number of critical reports. The hospital received a scathing report from the Quality Care Commission over its standards of cleanliness and hygiene,there have been a number of deaths at the hospital that have shown failings in the way it operates, there has been criticism of its maternity services and the hospital has been reported to have higher than expected death rates.

Mr Whittle, paid more than £150,000 a year, himself made national newspaper headlines when he admitted an affair with a member of the hospital’s board of governors. The relationship and split from his wife, publicly revealed in 2009 – two years after it happened – prompted questions over whether his relationship with Mrs Karen Bates, for whom he left his wife, meant that the board of governors, properly held him to account.

One of the strongest critics of Mr Whittle has been Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price. Today she spoke of her surprise that Mr Whittle’s departure was being delayed.

“They have missed an opportunity here to strike a positive note. It was a chance to show that the hospital has the chance of a brave new world, but instead it is being delayed and protracted again, which just shows how inept this hospital is and quite what its priorities are, rather than what they should be.

“In my view, improvements aren’t happening fast enough. It wasn’t so long that this hospital was very well respected – and it could be again.

“There’s no doubt about it, nurses, doctors and staff work hard and are under a lot of pressure, but, in my opinion, they are being let down by the management.

“Now they have missed the chance to show that they are making positive changes. It is disappointing. There needs to be a real wake up attitude coming from the top that things can and will be done and leaving Mr Whittle in post when everyone know he is going isn’t going to help that.”

Ms Doyle Price went on to talk about the hospital’s troubled past under and why she is campaigning so strongly for change.

She said: “For me it was the sad death of Luz Tacon, which was the final straw that convinced me that change was needed at Basildon. It came on top of a number of cases where the standard of care was not what it should have been.

I made it a personal priority to fight for better standards of care and to hold to account those who were responsible for poor standards.

“The decision by Alan Whittle to fall on his sword is a recognition by him that he has taken the Trust as far as he can in delivering the necessary improvements. What is needed is a step change in performance which can only be delivered through new leadership.

“The problems at Basildon were highlighted in a statement to Parliament as far back as November 2009

“The management has made attempts to tackle the weaknesses and have made some progress, but too often the improvement has not been sustained. I have been particularly concerned about care of elderly and vulnerable patients.

“It would be easy to lay responsibility at the door of Alan Whittle, but ultimately the responsibility rests with the whole Board.

“Last year the regulator criticised Basildon for its procedures around ‘Do not resuscitate orders’, which were placing patients at considerable risk. It appears that the problem has actually been reported to the Board some six months earlier but it had failed to take any action.

“Non-executive directors need to understand that they have to do more than take the money that comes with these posts and they should examine their consciences about the role they have played in the failure by the Hospital to achieve sustainable improvement.

“But there are questions too for the regulators.

“Each time the Care Quality Commission has visited Basildon they have found serious breaches of minimum standards.

“Monitor is responsible for the regulation of Foundation Trusts, their Chief Executive gets paid more than the Prime Minister. The buck stops with them if a hospital like Basildon continues to fail – something I have repeatedly reminded them of over the last few months. Given that the problems here became apparent in November 2009, Monitor has failed too.

“But it is not all doom and gloom. Many people do report that they are satisfied with the care they receive. The Management of the Trust must redouble their efforts to make sure that this is the case for all patients.

“There is a need to make sure that all staff are properly trained so that they deal with patients appropriately and sensitively.

“The change of leadership at the top gives the opportunity to transform the culture and performance so that poor standards are no longer tolerated and all patients using Basildon receive the high standards of care that they deserve.”

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