Page last updated at 17:06 GMT, Thursday, 2 October 2008 18:06 UK

Health chief suspended by board

John Watkinson
John Watkinson had been on extended leave

The head of a Cornish health trust has been suspended, its board has said.

John Watkinson, chief executive of Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT), had been on extended leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

The probe follows a report on financial management at Mr Watkinson's former employer, Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust in London, which has debts of 87m.

More than 200 senior doctors at the RCHT have issued a statement condemning the suspension.

The board said the suspension was to "facilitate" an independent review into the trust's management and "corporate governance arrangements".

Finance director Joe Teape would also act as the trust's chief executive for the time being, the statement added.

The joint investigation was announced by the South West Strategic Health Authority and the board of the RCHT last week.

Healthcare could be jeopardised in the long-term if we do not have clear leadership
Dr Anne Dingwall

It said it would consider whether issues of competence and behaviour, highlighted by Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust (BHT), had been a factor in any way in Cornwall.

Mr Watkinson was chief executive of BHT, which is facing debts of 87m.

Some 200 consultants and senior medical staff at the Royal Cornwall Hospital issued a statement condemning Mr Watkinson's suspension.

They claimed he was being targeted because of his stance against the transfer of cancer services from Cornwall to Plymouth, allegations which have been dismissed by the NHS in Cornwall as "preposterous".

Dr Anne Dingwall told the BBC: "Us doctors strive to offer the best healthcare possible to our patients.

"We feel that this could be jeopardised in the long-term if we do not have clear leadership.

"I think staff will be demoralised."

An Audit Commission report released on Thursday found financial performance at the RCHT had improved over the past year.

'Impartial and thorough'

Sheena Cox, from Health Initiative Cornwall, said the decision to suspend Mr Watkinson was "crazy".

"It's quite amazing, particularly in view of today's Audit Commission glowing report," she said.

"External and internal inquiries have given the trust a clean bill of health, so this is crazy and it makes no sense."

Mr Watkinson, who took up his post at the RCHT in January 2007, has been on extended leave since the joint investigation began.

The RCHT said the review would be "impartial and thorough".

It also said the Bromley review raised no concerns about standards of patient care.

Report shows improvement at trust
02 Oct 08 |  Cornwall
Witch hunt claims 'preposterous'
30 Sep 08 |  Cornwall
Anger at 'witch hunt' of NHS boss
29 Sep 08 |  Cornwall
Debt-crisis trust gets new boss
01 Jan 07 |  Cornwall
Cancer services move recommended
24 Sep 08 |  Cornwall

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