Politics: MPs seek resignation of NHS trust chief

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of MPs yesterday demanded the removal of the chairman of a major London teaching hospital to set an example to the rest of the National Health Service that poor management will not be tolerated.

They said heads must be made to roll when managers fail to come up to scratch and called on Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, to accelerate the introduction of performance measures for NHS boards.

In a rare display of public anger directed at one individual that echoes Mr Dobson's own determination to hold public figures to account, the Commons Select Committee on Public Administration said Sir Ronald Mason, chairman of the University College London Hospitals Trust, should have resigned after the trust was severely criticised by the NHS ombudsman last year.

At one stage the ombudsman was conducting five investigations into complaints against the trust without any noticeable impact on its management, the MPs say.

The principal case involved the daughter of a man who died who was not told of her father's deteriorating condition and subsequent death and was not allowed to see his body for several hours after he died. After an investigation, the ombudsman found that the trust had shown a "disgraceful lack of sensitivity to a bereaved relative", failed to provide proper care, and failed to respond properly to complaints from her.

Sir Ronald, who chaired a committee dealing with complaints to the trust, told the MPs that there was nothing in the ombudsman's criticisms that made him doubt his own performance. Yesterday, the committee said his confidence was "completely unfounded" and invited Mr Dobson to remove him. "It is essential that NHS bodies are made properly accountable when they fail; if prompt action had been taken in this case, we believe it would have sent a message to the NHS in general which would have had a galvanising effect across the institution."

Charles Marshall, the chief executive of UCH at the time the events occurred in 1994-95 who was also criticised, left the trust last March.

Failings in eight NHS trusts and health authorities are highlighted in the committee's latest report into the work of the NHS Ombudsman for 1996-97. It says it is particularly concerned about managers who have failed to respond to earlier criticism and urges ministers to deal decisively with those responsible.

Last night Sir Ronald Mason said he saw nothing in the committee's report to cause him to resign. Referring to the case of the bereaved daughter, he said: "Whilst I deeply regret the failings ... we have made significant changes ensuring such problems are very unlikely to recur, as is evidenced by our performance over the past three years."