MP blasts 'secret pay deal'

A HOSPITAL Trust has been accused of operating under a "culture of secrecy" after refusing to reveal details of its departing chief executive's apparent severance pay off.

Both Greg Barker, MP for Bexhill and Battle and Michael Foster, Hastings MP, are calling for answers from East Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Conquest and Eastbourne DGH.

The move comes as the Trust finally confirmed that its chief executive Annette Sergeant was leaving.

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The move also comes after both MPs warned the Trust against giving a huge pay off to Mrs Sergeant.

Mr Barker said: "It is a disgrace that public money, and let's remember that it's our money, is being used in such a secretive way.

"She is one an NHS contract and we are perfectly entitled to know and be reassured that there has not been any payment above and beyond that which was legally required to be paid to her.

"Why should it be confidential?

"This Trust is notorious for its secrecy and closed door politics.

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"Two years ago I initiated an independent inquiry because of such behaviour and once again it appears that the culture of secrecy and opaque governance is prevailing at the Conquest.

"If the Trust will not come clean it may not just be the old chief executive who will have to go.

"I am furious that anyone could walk away from this situation with a huge pay-off and leave the local hospital in financial crisis.

"The Trust was only awarded a one-star performance rating and is more than 3 million in the red.

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"Being chief executive of any large organisation is no easy job and it requires the person in that role to perform.

"That performance clearly has not been met.

"I have made my views known directly to the chairman of the Trust and if he and his non-executive colleagues refuse to take heed I will raise this matter directly with the Secretary of State for Health."

Mr Foster said he could not support any settlement that would exceed any legal payment to Mrs Sergeant.

He said he understood that a contract between an employer and employee was confidential but suggested that the full details of any pay off to Mrs Sergeant should be made public now, rather than being revealed in the annual accounts, which will be made public in September 2006.

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He said: "To my mind, if a chief executive or any other officer needs support that support should be given.

"If, however, they are unable to do the job for which they are employed they should be allowed to go.

"It is very difficult to see any context in which a substantial payment would be made."

But John Lewis, chairman of East Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "Any discussions between the Trust and Annette Sergeant are confidential.

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"We can make no further comments on this situation until we have completed the discussions.

"Annette Sergeant is leaving the Trust to pursue new career opportunities.

"She has led the organisation through a difficult merger and we have been fortunate to have had such an experienced chief executive over that time. Annette has shown energy and huge dedication in the way she has worked.

"I would like to thank her for her contribution and wish her well in the future."