Cornwall hospital trust chairman resigns after less than a week

Royal Cornwall Hospital
Image caption Mike Higgins said he resigned because he could not unite the hospital trust's board

An interim chairman appointed less than a week ago at a hospital trust, after the resignation of the previous chairman, has himself resigned.

Deputy chair Mike Higgins assumed the role after Martin Watts resigned from the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, following complaints about his conduct.

Mr Higgins was due to hold the post until a permanent appointment was made.

But, following an "extraordinary" board meeting, he said it was "impossible" for him to remain in the job.

In a statement to BBC News, Mr Higgins said: "In particular, I found it impossible to balance my support for Martin Watts with the urgent need to maintain a united board.

"The non-executive board members want to understand the process and detailed timeline related to the complaints and ultimate resignation of the previous chairman, as well as being provided with the details of the investigation reports.

"While this was agreed to, there was strong resistance from the executive team to provide full disclosure of the timeline of events."

Mr Higgins said he had resigned because he could not unite the board.

His appointment was announced on Tuesday, when he described his new role as "an honour".

At the time he said he hoped "to offer stability and focus to ensure we continue to provide the very best care for our patients".

'Clearly disappointing'

A trust spokesperson said: "Clearly, this [Mr Higgins' resignation] is disappointing, but we continue to work with the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) on both the interim arrangements and the permanent appointment of a new chairman of Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust.

"We are committed to ensuring that all our staff feel able to raise any concerns they have, with the assurance that those concerns will be dealt with appropriately."

The NHS body that sets rules for trusts said an independent investigation had upheld a complaint against Mr Watts from two members of staff.

The trust's dignity at work policy covers issues such as bullying, harassment and victimisation, but the trust has not revealed the specific details of the accusations.

'Disorganised shambles'

Mr Watts said his decision to resign was not an admission of guilt and he would fight to clear his name.

Stuart Roden, from the union Unison, said: "What the staff want to be doing is getting on with providing patient care, not to be seeing what almost appears to be a disorganised shambles at the top of the organisation."

The NHS TDA said it was working with the hospital trust to ensure it had "the leadership it needs as quickly as possible".

"It is crucial that we get the right person to chair the trust to ensure that it continues both to provide excellent healthcare services for the local community and to work towards achieving Foundation Trust status," a spokesperson said.

Rik Evans, a non-executive director at RCHT, said: "The patients who come to RCHT know we're giving great service.

"It carries on regardless of who resigns, who leaves from the management, it carries on.

"You and I could walk through this hospital right now and see that nothing has changed in terms of the care our staff are giving to patients and that's the important thing."

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