Reactions at both ends of the spectrum to ambulance boss’s resignation

PUBLISHED: 16:12 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:12 04 September 2018

The ambulance control room in Hellesdon.
Chief Executive Robert Morton.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017

The ambulance control room in Hellesdon. Chief Executive Robert Morton. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017


The resignation of the boss of the region’s ambulance service has been met with a mixed reaction.

The ambulance control room in Hellesdon.
Chief Executive Robert Morton.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017The ambulance control room in Hellesdon. Chief Executive Robert Morton. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

The comments sent to this newspaper and circulated on social media could not be more polarised after Friday’s announcement, and ranged from branding Robert Morton, who has been at East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) for three years, as the best chief executive the trust had ever had to the worst.

Mr Morton has been at the trust for three years and faced criticism over winter after a whistleblower released a dossier of apparent patient harm caused by delays.

But he has also been praised for securing a new contract with commissioners, which will see investment into the service.

He announced on Friday he would be stepping aside as he could not commit to five more years at the trust.

East of England ambulance. Picture: Simon FinlayEast of England ambulance. Picture: Simon Finlay

Some members of the trust, including many board members and senior staff, jumped to Mr Morton’s defence on Twitter.

Rachel Avery challenged north Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who had called for Mr Morton’s resignation, and said: “Negative behaviour breeds negative behaviour @normanlamb. @EEASTCEO is a compassionate and human leader; a culture of over use and poor funding and commissioning has caused our difficulties. He will be missed and has been a pleasure to know.”

Simon King, senior locality manager in south Bedfordshire and Luton tweeted: “You’re a good man Robert and we will miss you but thank you for your inspirational leadership @EEASTCEO @EastEnglandAmb. I am sorry you’ve had to weather such personal attacks as you’ve taken on some of our biggest challenges.”

MORE: Ambulance service boss resigns amid ‘tremendous pressure’

Lindsey Stafford-Scott, the trust’s deputy chief executive, replied: “Well said Simon and sadly the attacks continue.”

But some frontline staff members who contacted this newspaper, but asked to remain anonymous due to fear of repercussions, had a different view.

One staff member who has worked for EEAST for nearly 10 years said: “The news of Robert Morton resigning has come at great relief and delight of us the front line staff.

“Staff morale is a low, staff are leaving in their droves and have been for a while under Morton, him stepping down has seen a brief peak in this morale. Let’s hope the next CEO is of similar calibre to [Dr Anthony] Marsh and actually feels and wants to serve the staff and patients, because bottom line is we are their to serve the patients and with a grumbling, deflated under valued work force patient care will eventually and is suffering.”

Another employee said: “Personally, I’m delighted and am confident that the vast majority of staff feel the same way. This CEO has been elusive, disconnected and deaf to the voices of the staff. It’s clear that he and the board have committed a large amount of effort in patting themselves on the back and blaming others for their poor decisions. His resignation is a huge step towards making the trust good again.”

They also branded the social media reaction of senior staff members as “hilarious and tragic”.

Another member of staff said: “I have seen that some managers are praising Mr Morton’s and the board’s leadership and they appear to give the impression that many staff are sad to see Mr Morton leave.

“I would like, if I may, to point out that this is not the view of the majority of staff (including many managers). [On Friday] the collective sigh of relief throughout the trust at this news was very palpable indeed.

“The damage that has been done to staff moral and wellbeing under the tenure of the current trust leadership will take a very long time to repair.”

But Mr Morton himself had also hit back on Twitter to criticism.

MEP for the east of England, Alex Mayer, said: “I welcome the resignation and hope that a new chief executive can be found swiftly who will put the concerns of staff and patients at the heart of every decision.

“Our ambulance service can and must do better. Patients deserve it and so do our hardworking paramedics.”

But Mr Morton said Ms Mayer had not contacted EEAST since being elected. He added: “If she has concerns, she hasn’t told us directly or through union partners. Will write to Alex to ask what her concerns are.”

And staff member Diane Dingley, who has worked for the trust for 10 years, added: “Another groundless and uneducated comment from the uninterested....... get your facts straight before you make statements in future. @EEASTCEO will be sorely missed by the staff and will be a hard act to follow.”

Mr Morton also challenged an apparent member of staff who was questioning a redesign of rotas and said: “If you believe the public or commissioners should invest without us addressing inefficiencies, do it in your own name, not from pseudonym. Alternatively, apply for the job and do it your way.”

A date for Mr Morton to leave the trust has not yet been announced, but it will be this financial year.

There has also been no announcement of who will take over the role.

Analysis: From one extreme to the other

In 2018, debate becomes polarised in many areas of life, especially in politics.

In journalism, we often hear the extremes of each side of an argument and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

It seems that would be the case with Robert Morton’s resignation - some will welcome it, while others will be devastated. Even the officials seem split, an independent Deloitte report found staff and stakeholders found Mr Morton was “visionary, supportive and motivational”. But the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said the trust needed to improve its leadership.

Mr Morton’s tenure has not been an easy one with a backdrop of a wider NHS under pressure, a winter crisis which saw ambulance trusts and hospitals suffering, and a changing landscape in Norfolk and Waveney’s healthcare system. But those who supported Mr Morton said he was instrumental in securing extra investment to drive the service forward, despite these challenges.

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