The sacked chairman of the Northern Trust has questioned whether the Health Minister will resign in the new year if he fails to improve waiting times for patients at Antrim Area Hospital’s casualty unit.
Jim Stewart, who was fired by Edwin Poots last week after failing to meet targets, said he fears for the future of the health service under the minister.
He claimed that the minister victimised him, made him a scapegoat and ignored requests to meet.
Now Mr Stewart has hit back, saying managers are pressurised to meet unrealistic targets based on “political aspirations” and staff morale is at an all-time low.
He also claimed he was asked to sack the former Northern Trust chief executive Sean Donaghy, but had refused. Mr Poots said he did not know of any such request to sack Mr Donaghy.
“I have never had my ability questioned before. I am very disappointed and I just don't understand. I was not given a reason and just told to resign and go quietly before things got difficult.
“The only thing I have been told is that Mr Poots had formed a view that I should go. This is no way to do business,” he said.
“When the minister comes out and says heads will roll he is looking for somebody. I don't have a contract of employment; that's why he picked on me. This is not the way to run the public sector.”
Mr Stewart said the A&E department at Antrim Area Hospital is “fully stretched” and that it is unfair to expect the trust to meet unrealistic targets.
“No-one should have to wait excessively but we have a duty of care to staff to ensure that the required resources are available; more doctors, nursing staff and beds. Whilst a larger A&E department is being built it is simply unrealistic to expect the trust to meet targets without this capacity,” he added.
“If we still have 12-hour waits in January and February, I wonder will Mr Poots resign and apologise to the patients that have had to wait? There is a fear that if non-executive directors don't toe the line they will also lose their jobs.”
The Department of Health said Mr Poots had introduced a number of measures to support the Northern Trust over the last year. “The minister has made a full statement to the Assembly on the reasons behind his decision (to sack Mr Stewart),” it added.