More problems for health trust

MARK NICHOLLS Norfolk's troubled health trust was rocked over the weekend by the second sudden departure of a senior executive within days.

MARK NICHOLLS

Norfolk's troubled health trust was rocked over the weekend by the second sudden departure of a senior executive within days.

Now MPs and doctors' leaders fear it could cause serious instability in an organisation that is fighting to head off debts of £42m and looking to implement radical changes to the health system in the county.

It has emerged that director of commissioning Audrey Bradford is leaving Norfolk Primary Care Trust, days after it was announced that interim chief executive Hilary Daniels was stepping down.

The trust stressed that the two women were only ever temporary appointments but what has caused concern is their departure at such a critical stage.

Norfolk PCT is struggling to balance its books, has set up radical cuts of some services and is about to move into a crucial stage of plans to change intermediate care provision in the county, which could see up to 70 community beds axed and some cottage hospitals closed.

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Last night, trust chairman Sheila Childerhouse said: "I can understand people's concerns but we feel very clear that we have covered all the issues and we will continue to progress the work we have started."

Hilary Daniels, who has been running the PCT since it was formed in October, will be replaced as interim chief executive by Julie Garbutt, currently chief executive of South East Essex PCT.

Mrs Childerhouse said that Mrs Garbutt also had a background in commissioning but there would be a replacement for Audrey Bradford in the near future.

The EDP also understands that a large number of rank and file staff are unsettled by looming redundancies following the fall-out from the merger of five former PCTs into the larger organisation.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said of the two sudden departures: "Given that this organisation has a monumental challenge in the year ahead this is the very last thing we would have wanted to happen.

"I will write to the chair of the trust and ask for some clarity about why this has happened and whether the financial position that they are in has anything to do with it."

Dr Ian Hume, chairman of the Norfolk Local Medical Committee which represents GPs, said: "Clearly at a time when there is so much change occurring within the PCT, to lose two of the top directors in the space of a week is something we are concerned about.

"We would be concerned about the effect it is going to have on the stability and the function of the organisation."

Mrs Garbutt is due to take over on Thursday but it is understood she will attend an emergency executive meeting today to discuss the latest developments.

Interviews for a permanent chief executive will take place on March 5 and 6 and it is understood Mrs Garbutt is a candidate.

Ms Daniels said her departure and that of Ms Bradford were not connected.

The East of England Strategic Health Authority has distanced itself from the departures saying such matters were for the chair and executive team of the PCT.