Financial expert is appointed as NHS Trust continues to struggle

Premier Inn Tunbridge Wells

AFTER one of its toughest winters, the embattled Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells (MTW) NHS Trust is facing upheaval as it races against time to meet the requirements of its budget constraints.

The Trust was placed in financial special measures last July after it was revealed that it had run up a projected budget deficit of £23million.

Since then MTW’s two hospitals have seen an 11 per cent increase in emergency admissions over the winter period compared to last year.

One Clinical Director, Laurence Maiden, has compared his Specialist Medicine and Therapies Directorate to a cruise ship and said ‘the challenges regarding capacity and financial special measures’ are ‘analogous to a ship lurching in a tropical storm’.

MTW has appointed a new Chairman with wide-ranging financial credentials. David Highton is set to take up the post in May after Tony Jones stepped down at the end of last month.

It is also set to lose two more key members of the Trust’s Board, Chief Medical Director Paul Sigston and Chief Nurse Avey Bhatia.

David Highton

Since last summer it has agreed a Financial Recovery Plan (FRP) with NHS Improvement but there is a ‘significant risk’ of falling short by £7million.



The Trust’s net deficit in the financial year up to the end of January was £14.1million against a planned ‘control total’ of £9.9million.

The Board has noted: “The financial plans for the second and third quarters had been delivered, but quarter four had always represented the major challenge.”

There was the proverbial ‘mountain to climb’, and time was short.

The Board added: “Despite our best efforts, cancellation of planned surgery has been necessary when demand for emergency care reaches the kinds of unparalleled levels we have been experiencing.”

But it admitted: “The strain had however been considerable, and there had been occasions when patients had to be treated on trollies.”

A chartered accountant by trade, the new Trust chairman Mr Highton is an NHS veteran but has been working in Qatar for the last six years, latterly acting as an adviser to the Ministry of Public Health.

He had previously been with the Hamad Medical Corporation, the main hospital provider in Qatar, and was Chairman of its Finance and Resources Committee.

He has also served as Chief Executive of Oxford Radcliffe and Chelsea & Westminster NHS Trusts. In the Oxfordshire role he “delivered break-even in 2001 and 2002 after five previous years of deficit for the Trust.”

And in London, he oversaw the creation of the NHS Trust in 1994 after the hospital had opened the previous year, replacing four older facilities. It was the last major hospital to be built before the introduction of Private Finance Initiatives.

A keen rugby fan and former player, Mr Highton has strong Kentish connections. He grew up in Meopham and attended Gravesend Grammar School, and currently lives in Whitstable.

His predecessor, Tony Jones, announced that he would be stepping down last November after serving as Chairman for eight years with two full terms.

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