Published: 11:12, 17 December 2021
| Updated: 15:41, 17 December 2021
The woman tasked with turning around a troubled hospitals trust in Kent will arrive with a track record among England's best.
Tracey Fletcher has today been announced as the new chief executive of East Kent Hospitals, which has been struck by a number of high-profile scandals in recent years, including an ongoing review into avoidable baby deaths.
It is a far cry from her current role as boss of London's Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which she has run since 2013.
The trust's flagship hospital in Homerton is rated 'outstanding' by the Care Quality Commission, and its A&E department was the first in the country to receive the top grading in 2014.
And it appears standards haven't slipped, as in November Homerton recorded the second-best waiting times in England, with almost 87% of patients seen within four hours.
In East Kent, which runs Margate's QEQM, Ashford's William Harvey, and the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, the figure was 63%.
Such has been Ms Fletcher's success, that Chief Inspector of Hospitals Sir Mike Richards previously said in a glowing report: "More trusts need to be like Homerton".
She will have her work cut out at East Kent Hospitals, however, which was recently given a CQC rating of 'requires improvement'.
But living in Deal, and having worked for the trust as chief operating officer between 2008 and 2010, she knows the area well.
She said: “I am delighted to be joining East Kent Hospitals as its CEO.
"It is a real privilege to be appointed to my local trust and as a local resident I am very aware of its vital role in its community, as a provider of care and as an employer.
“I am looking forward to working with staff across the organisation, as well as with governors, volunteers and partners, to deliver great healthcare for patients and a great place to work for staff.”
Trust's turbulent past
Ms Fletcher will take over in spring when the trust's current chief, Susan Acott, steps down after just four years in the role.
Mrs Acott took over the the position in 2017 when former chief executive Matthew Kershaw left in the wake of some of the worst A&E waiting times in England.
She has since overseen the trust, which also operates smaller hospitals in Dover and Folkestone, during one of the most turbulent times in its history.
Mrs Acott’s tenure has included a maternity scandal sparked by the “wholly avoidable” death of baby Harry Richford at the QEQM hospital in November 2017.
The CQC started a formal criminal investigation - the first of its kind - into baby Harry’s death in October 2019.
In April this year, the trust pleaded guilty to the charge that it caused Harry and his mother Sarah Richford, from Birchington, harm by failing to provide safe care and treatment. It was fined £733,000 at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court in June.
The trust is now the focus of an independent inquiry by Dr Bill Kirkup, looking into the standard of maternity and neonatal care in east Kent since 2009.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the trust has also come under fire for apparent issues regarding infection control.
At one point last July, almost a quarter of all Covid-related deaths in the country took place at hospitals in east Kent, prompting concerns over in-hospital transmission of the virus.
The CQC visited the William Harvey last August and found a series of concerning issues, including staff not washing their hands properly and lacking clarity on Covid testing methodolgy.
The trust made a number of improvements following the visit.
A spokesman for the trust said Mrs Acott is leaving her role to “pursue her interests in helping improve health and wellbeing in coastal communities”.
Commenting on Ms Fletcher's appointment, EKH chairman Niall Dickson said: “We are fortunate to have attracted such an experienced NHS leader with a great track record and a total commitment to continue our drive to improve the care we provide to the people of east Kent.”
Anne Eden, regional director for NHS England and Improvement, South East added: “We are delighted to welcome Tracey to the south east. Tracey brings with her a great deal of energy and experience which will be invaluable to both the trust and the Kent and Medway Integrated Care System.”
Mr Dickson continued: “The trust’s board is immensely grateful to Susan for her dedication to the NHS and to the trust. She has led the organisation through the pandemic, the most challenging period in the history of the NHS, has overseen many key changes and secured much needed investment for some of our key services.
“We are aware that there is more we need to do to provide consistently high standards of care for all our patients, but we believe that this organisation has huge potential. Under Tracey’s leadership we will do everything we can to support our staff to provide the best possible care and to work closely with all our partners in East Kent.
“Tracey’s appointment enables a smooth transition as the trust moves to the next stage of its improvement journey.”