Kevin McGee will be the new chief executive at the NHS trust that runs Blackpool Victoria Hospital, and the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, it was confirmed this morning.
He had been in temporary charge of Blackpool for six months following the retirement of former boss Wendy Swift, while he also remained the chief in East Lancashire, though Dr Damian Riley was charged with running day-to-day business there.
In a statement, Blackpool said the two trusts "agreed to work in closer collaboration", but initially refused to answer a number of key questions, including whether, as feared, the move marks the start of a merger. It also declined to say whether Mr McGee will be taking home two salaries, or reveal how he will split his time between the two trusts.
Following the publication of this story, Blackpool said: "Mr McGee will be devoting the same amount of time to both Trusts. Both organisations will remain within their current statutory forms and will retain separate executive teams and trust boards.
"Mr McGee will get a single salary and his remuneration has been agreed by the remuneration committee in line with the organisational corporate governance procedures and NHS Improvement regulatory guidance on executive pay."
Earlier this week, The Gazette revealed bosses at the Vic turned to McGee as the permanent successor to Ms Swift after being left disappointed by the calibre of applicants for the vacant role.
The decision, which was agreed by governors at a meeting on September 16, had to be confirmed by NHS bosses, and sparked concern from Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden, who voiced his fears the appointment could lead to a merger.
He hit out at the Vic for being “at best ambiguous and at worst evasive” by refusing to answer questions from the press, and demanded “the utmost clarity” over the appointment process.
He said: “Is this the prelude to a virtual merger of the two trusts? If so, this has huge implications, given the very different needs of the two areas.
“We know that Mr McGee spoke about that prospect enthusiastically to a national health journal at the beginning of August, over a month before the trust chairman Pearse Butler recommended him to governors.
“Yet none of this process was disclosed either to myself or to other MPs in the area who are stakeholders, as far as I am aware, until it had been rubber stamped at a governors’ meeting and then conveyed to us by telephone.”
He criticised the controversial process for a lack of transparency and said Mr Butler’s involvement in it “beggars belief” since it comes just a year after his own appointment was scrutinised during a special Parliamentary debate raised by the Blackpool South MP.
At the time, the then-health minister Stephen Barclay said the issues raised were a “cause for concern”.
During the debate, ex-boss Wendy Swift was criticised for sitting on the panel that picked her new boss, while there were also allegations of “irregularities” and of some governors feeling “intimidated” or “gagged”.
The hospital said Mr Butler’s recruitment was “undertaken fully in line with the trust’s constitution”, with governors making the decision – not Ms Swift.
She stepped down from the panel following intervention by Mr Marsden, who today said: “Lessons have not been learned.”
In response to Mr McGee’s appointment, Mr Butler said: “The trust went out to national advert for the role of chief executive but did not find a candidate that we felt had the necessary experience at this time.
“We took expert advice from the regulators and followed all relevant procedures with a formal process of approval with NHS Improvement. We also involved the Integrated Care System for Lancashire and South Cumbria in the process."
Mr Butler continued: “We are really pleased to have secured the services of Kevin McGee on an ongoing basis, having failed to find the right person in an extensive recruitment process.
“Kevin has a great reputation for success and is a champion of the people who are most important in ensuring effective and compassionate care for our patients - the staff.
"I'd like to extend my sincere thanks to Prof Eileen Fairhurst, chairman of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust and her board colleagues, for agreeing to this innovative arrangement, and to Kevin for accepting this challenging role.
"I am sure that the communities and the staff of both trusts will benefit from this important decision.'’
In a statement, the Vic said the arrangement will bring "many benefits" for patients and staff, including better care, a "drive towards financial sustainability", better performance and a "strengthened leadership team across both trusts", and a "strong career offer to all staff which will lead to more effective recruitment and retention, attracting the best staff and keeping them".
It said training would be improved, and there would also be the "ability to undertake a strategic review of services".
It added: "The move to greater collaboration is in line with the national NHS strategy and the NHS Long Term Plan and reflects a paradigm shift in how providers in Lancashire and South Cumbria will work together in future to meet the significant health and care needs of the population.
"An ongoing assurance process has been agreed with [NHS bosses] to pave the way for a future where the trusts continue to work effectively together to deliver quality outcomes and improved patient experience and play an active role in supporting the ICS strategic objectives."
Mr McGee said: "I'm delighted to be appointed to this role and excited at the prospect of carrying on leading both trusts on their continuing improvement journeys at what is undoubtedly a challenging time for everyone working in the NHS.
“Both trusts have much to commend them, especially the staff, who are all among the best I've ever worked with. I am totally committed to ensuring the people of Fylde coast and East Lancashire have access to the best services possible, in the most appropriate place, provided by the NHS. "
I'd like to thank my executive colleagues, senior teams, the members of both Boards and Governors at Blackpool for their support and confidence.'’
Prof Eileen Fairhurst added: “I have no doubt that Kevin will be a great success in undertaking this new, extended role especially given the support he will have from his close team. Both hospital trusts are set to gain from each other in this ongoing collaboration.
“Thanks to the calibre of leadership we have enjoyed at our trust for some years now, I have every confidence in the people here to continue to provide the highest levels of safe, personal and effective care for our patients, and I look forward to a sharing of knowledge and expertise across both trusts.
"I also look forward to the greater collaboration of NHS trusts and stakeholders across Lancashire and South Cumbria in order to deliver the benefits people, patients and relatives deserve."