Northern Health Trust chairman Jim Stewart is sacked
The chairman of the Northern Health Trust, Jim Stewart, has been sacked.
It is the first time that a senior health manager has been removed from his post at a Northern Ireland trust.
The sacking follows a crisis in the trust's accident and emergency provision, during which a number of health targets were not met.
Mr Stewart had refused to resign and said he was "very disappointed" that the health minister, Edwin Poots, had chosen to sack him.
Mr Poots said the chairman had fallen short of the high standards expected of someone in his position and confirmed that he has "terminated Mr Stewart's appointment with immediate effect".
The Northern Health Trust has been under considerable pressure, mainly due to the poor performance of the Antrim Area Hospital's accident and emergency department.
For successive winters, the hospital has experienced excessive trolley waits with regular breaches to both its four and 12-hour targets.
In response to his sacking, Mr Stewart said he felt he had been made a "scapegoat".
"I've been involved the public sector for 17 years and never once had my ability or commitment questioned - and even won a CBE award for my commitment in another role - so I really don't understand and I feel the reasons are just fabricated," he said.
On Monday, Mr Stewart had accused the health minister of victimising him for his refusal to sack Sean Donaghy, the chief executive of the Northern Health Trust, over the missed targets.
While Mr Stewart acknowledges that the Mr Poots did not directly ask him to sack Mr Donaghy, he said he felt under pressure to do so as the minister had told chairmen that heads would roll unless targets were met and people held to account.
But in a statement on Friday, Mr Poots said the chairman's remarks had been "very damaging to the reputation of the trust".
The minster said: "Against a background of very serious and unresolved issues with the performance of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust on emergency care, I need to be sure that the leadership team are all working together to resolve the problem.
"Whatever may or may not have been said before Monday 10 December, it was wholly inappropriate for Mr Stewart to speak publicly as he did on Monday."
Mr Poots said the remarks had "confirmed that Mr Stewart does not share my view that much better performance against the 12-hour standard for A&E Departments is both possible and essential in the short term".
Mr Stewart has been at the helm of the trust for almost seven years.
During that time there was a a serious outbreak of the hospital superbug, C. difficile, and most recently, the crisis in emergency care provision.
Earlier this year, the health minister, Edwin Poots said "heads would roll" if trusts did not achieve their targets.
In his statement, Mr Poots said that people in positions of responsibility such as Mr Stewart "must demonstrate the highest standards of corporate and personal conduct based on recognition that patients and clients always come first".
"Regrettably, in addition to a number of performance issues at the Northern HSC Trust, upon which the chair was recently challenged by my department, Mr Stewart fell short of these high standards in recent days."
The minister said the vacant post of chairman would be filled "as soon as possible".
He added that until a new chair was appointed, the "existing board at the trust will elect an interim chair from its non executive directors".