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Chair of East Kent Hospitals Trust Stephen Smith to step down once term ends next Spring

The chair of a scandal-hit hospital trust has announced he will be stepping down from his role.

Professor Stephen Smith has been chair of the board of directors at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust (EKHUFT) since Mach 2018 - but will be leaving next Spring to focus on work in the Middle East.

Chairman of the East Kent Hospital University Foundation Trust Prof Stephen Smith. Picture: EKHUFT
Chairman of the East Kent Hospital University Foundation Trust Prof Stephen Smith. Picture: EKHUFT

The trust, which runs hospitals in Ashford , Margate , Canterbury , Dover and Folkestone - is at the centre of a major investigation into baby deaths .

Earlier this year, the hospital trust's board admitted the number of cases of preventable baby deaths at its sites could be as many as 15 in seven years .

This month, it emerged East Kent Hospitals Trust is being criminally prosecuted over the death of a baby boy in what is believed to be the first case of its kind .

An independent investigation dubbed the Kirkup Review is set to examine the standard of care provided by the trust's maternity and neonatal services since 2009.

EKHUFT has also been accused of struggling to control the spread of coronavirus within its hospitals during the pandemic.

The QEQM Hospital in Margate. Picture: Google Street View
The QEQM Hospital in Margate. Picture: Google Street View

After carrying out an inspection at the William Harvey in Ashford, The Care Quality Commission told the Trust it "must improve" care at the hospital .

The CQC's damning report found a large number of issues around infection control and hygiene in the hospital, including staff not using hand sanitiser or changing their PPE .

Now, chair of the EKHUFT's board of trustees, Prof Smith has announced he will not be seeking a further term in the role, when his current term ends next Spring.

He says the decision has been made in favour of expanding his involvement in a "major international health transformation programme" in the Middle East.

He said: “I believe that chairing this trust board is a very important role that requires total commitment and I can see that next year I will need to devote significantly more time each month on my work in the Middle East.

The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford
The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford

"I would not be serving the trust, its staff, its patients or our local communities properly if I could not give this job the total focus it requires.

“Over the past two-and-a-half years we have faced some major challenges.

"The coronavirus pandemic has been the biggest health challenge of my life time and I believe that here, as elsewhere, the NHS has risen to this challenge with staff commitment and dedication that goes far beyond the call of duty.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our staff for their staunch perseverance during the initial wave of the pandemic and I know we will be able to rely on them as we tackle the next wave over the coming months.”

Prof Smith is a clinician scientist who has held senior positions both in the academic field and in the NHS in the UK and abroad, including at the University of Cambridge, Imperial College in London, and the University of Melbourne.

He also currently serves on various health and health technology boards and is a Trustee of Pancreatic Cancer UK.

A gynaecologist by training, he has published more than 230 papers on reproductive medicine and cancer.

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