The NHS's longest serving chief executive has been “pushed out” of his job after he suspended senior consultants who used hospital premises to have sex, according to hospital insiders.
Sir Leonard Fenwick, Newcastle and Tyne Hospital Trust's chief executive, was put on "extended leave" from the hospital under mysterious circumstances earlier this year, a decision which angered a number of staff and governors.
Sir Leonard, 69, who has been at the helm of hospitals in the North East for 40 years, had exposed a ‘sex ring’ involving consultants who would meet female staff for liaisons - including on hospital premises - prior to being put on leave.
A hospital worker told the Telegraph they were “appalled” that the married consultants who “shared” female staff between them and would use code words such as “marmite” and “cappuccino” for sex had not been “disciplined correctly”.
The staff member said one trauma and orthopaedic consultant would meet a female colleague at the Signature Sandman Hotel, near the hospital, for sex during working hours. “They also visited each other in clinical rooms groping and openly flirting in a patient environment,” they alleged.
An investigation uncovered hundreds of emails from the consultants to three female secretarial and clerical members of staff containing details about the trysts.
According to the source, the ring sent "hundreds" of "indecent" emails and text messages "when they were paid to be working". They referred to one of the women as 'the Madam' who they allegedly met when they worked at another hospital.
Concerns have also been raised that the group took photographs of their activity.
Sir Leonard had moved to suspend the two consultants, but the Trust's chair, Kingsley Smith, and a non-executive director, Bryan Dodson, decided the pair could keep their jobs following a 20-minute disciplinary hearing, according to a source in the hospital.
“It sickens me to think that the consultants involved were reinstated with no action taken,” they said. The consultants have since resigned from their posts at the hospital, following pressure from other staff who said they felt uncomfortable working with them.
Another source said: "All the other staff were thoroughly disgusted. It was Mr Smith who allowed them back. The CEO was not actually party to the discussion. He was pushed out on gardening leave a few months later.
"The hospital has been Sir Leonard’s heart and life's work and now he has been ousted. As far as I'm concerned it's a cover up".
The source told the Telegraph that the Trust’s governors had been forbidden from speaking about the issue and have been unable to contact Sir Leonard since his departure in January.
"No one is allowed to speak to [Sir Len] and no one will talk. The board of governors have a duty to the public to tell us what's going on. But there's been very clearly some sort of silencing and it's very clear they're not being told".
Nick Brown, a Newcastle MP, has also called on the hospital to give a “reasonable explanation” as to why Sir Leonard is on extended leave.
Paul Briggs, a former governor and Trust member, told the Telegraph: "I have spoken to governors and they have been gagged" on the issue of Sir Len's departure.
Mr Briggs said there were still outstanding questions over "the reasons why the CEO was suspended," and that a letter he sent to the Trust secretary demanding to know why Sir Leonard had been removed had been returned without being circulated.
Mr Briggs said he suspected Sir Leonard's departure may partly have been due to "a difference of opinion on the future of the hospital's running" with the Trust’s chair Mr Smith.
But he added: "That's not the way of doing it - this decision damages the reputation of the Trust".
A spokeswoman for the Trust said they “strongly refute” allegations that pressure was placed on staff or governors to remain silent.
"The trust has been clear with staff and governors that Sir Leonard Fenwick is on a period of extended leave,” she said.
"We have a duty to protect the confidentiality of all of our staff, and for that reasons we would not comment on his leave."
Staff are also concerned about the future of the Trust, with Sir Leonard is no longer at the helm and Jim Mackey, CEO of another NHS hospital, tipped as a possible replacement for Sir Leonard.
Other arrangements at the hospital have been called into question, such as the position of the Trust’s chair, Mr Smith, who reached the nine-year limit for the role last September.
“One has to ask what happened to the process for finding his replacement which commenced in January 1st 2016 and then mysteriously petered out?” said Mr Briggs.
Newcastle and Tyne Trust confirmed that Mr Smith had reached the end of his term of office and had advertised on two occasions to seek a suitable replacement.
This had led to Mr Smith’s term being extended for a number of months. However, Ray Venus said he was “sacked” from his post as an appointed governor, after he put forward a motion that Kingsley Smith’s term in office should not be extended.
He said: "It looks like an orchestrated attempt to silence criticism. It's a bit disgusting to sack you over the phone after 12 years' service - I can’t even say bye to my colleagues.
“It’s the way it’s been dealt with; the way we’ve been dealt with. They’ve held us in contempt.”
Newcastle and Tyne Trust said Mr Venus had to step down from his role because the organisation he was appointed to represent - Pentagon Partnership - ceased to exist.
However, Mr Venus claimed while the organisation had disbanded four years ago, he had been permitted to continue in the role because he represented other voluntary organisations. “But it begs the question why they were looking [now],” he said.