Nursing boss is 'fall guy' in £10m NHS cuts row
PATIENTS fear mental health service in North Staffordshire will suffer following the sudden departure of the area's nursing boss just 10 months after he was appointed.
Steve Gregory has left Combined Healthcare Trust 'with immediate effect' – with no plans to replace him announced by NHS officials.
It is the second blow in a week for the 1,900-staff organisation after its bid to become a free-standing Foundation Trust (FT) was thrown into doubt in a move which is set to see it taken over by groups outside North Staffordshire.
Besides being its nursing head, Mr Gregory, from Trentham, was also director of quality and operations.
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He had previously been director of mental health at South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare FT – one of the organisations it is about to open merger talks with after putting the long-standing FT application 'under review.'
Mr Gregory replaced David Pearson who retired after being a mental health nurse in North Staffordshire for 38 years. But he arrived as the trust was drawing up controversial plans to shut all the area's once-pioneering community mental health beds and some day hospitals partly to save money.
He weathered a stormy spell of public consultation on the cuts which have just been completed.
Then he was attacked by patients' carers and Combined was criticised by the primary care trusts for reducing some out-of-hours mental health services which had not been sanctioned by the consultation.
Combined officials say Mr Gregory had decided to follow other career opportunities and had been seconded to the region's strategic health authority.
Chief executive Fiona Myers said: "We recently made an announcement that we will be reviewing our NHS Foundation Trust application. In light of this announcement, Steve Gregory has decided to pursue career opportunities elsewhere and has accepted a secondment to work across the NHS Midlands and East Strategic Health Authority.
"With immediate effect, the quality and operations portfolio will be led by me and my executive directors."
In a message to staff she added: "I am sure you will join me in wishing Steve the very best in his future endeavours."
Mr Gregory said: "It has been a privilege to meet and support some fantastic clinicians and service users. I wish them all the best for the future."
Officials have blamed the FT review decision on local NHS funding bodies imposing a £10million cut on its budget next year – and patient groups claim Mr Gregory had been made a scapegoat.
Ian Syme, co-ordinator of North Staffordshire Healthwatch, said: "I found him a decent man but he was a fall guy. It is worrying there is now no specific nursing directorship on the board."
Grant Williams, of Clayton, who complained about out-of-hours care received by wife Joanne, added: "I fear services will get worse."