£165k-a-year hospital chief’s driving ban lifted as it’s ‘unfair to the NHS’

A hospital boss who took a “cavalier approach” to driving laws has been spared a ban after a judge ruled it would be “grossly unfair” to the health service during the pandemic.

Donald Richards, 56, was disqualified from driving by magistrates in September after racking up too many points on his licence.

His latest offence was driving 56mph while in a 40mph zone on the A40 near Ealing, west London, in October last year.

Richards, who earns £165,000 as the chief financial officer for West Hertfordshire NHS Hospital Trust, appealed the ban at Kingston Crown Court, claiming he faced “exceptional hardship”.

A panel of two justices and a crown court judge ruled the ban should be lifted, not because of Richards’ own circumstances, but because of the potential strain on NHS services.

The court heard Richards, who lives in Acton, is based at Watford General Hospital, but also travels to St Albans and Hemel Hempstead around three times a week.

He said a team of seven people were on call one night a week, and he would be expected to be at one of the hospitals within an hour if there was an emergency.

The commute takes around 50 minutes in the car, the court heard, but could be nearly double this on public transport.

Giving evidence, Richards said: “I’m a member of the leadership team for the trust. My key responsibility is for managing resources throughout the organisation, making sure supplies are procured and general management throughout the three hospitals we look after.

“The chief executive likes all of us to walk the floor and talk to staff, especially at this critical time.

“We’ve had a very difficult time at the moment, it’s become increasingly difficult.

“Especially with COVID – we need to organise different types of patients being isolated in different wards to minimize infection. You need to be able to get to the site in question within an hour. You can be called at any time.”

Donald Richards 56, Chief Financial Officer for West Hertfordshire
(Image: Daily Star)

He said the NHS “didn’t have an option” to hire a driver for him and if he could not get to work within an hour he would not be able to fulfil all his obligations as Chief Financial Officer.

He added: “This would result in considerable hardship for my colleagues and the hospital in question. The rota is already quite intensive. I wouldn’t be able to fulfil my contractual requirements.

“It’s an onerous duty, you can imagine the situation with COVID-19 at the moment, it’s an extremely stressful time at the organisation, the organisation is already stretched pretty extensively, you could say to the limit.

“There’s no doubt about it the organisation will be placed under even more strain.”

Prosecutor Charles Drinnan said: “Respectfully, you are on a healthy salary, you could get an Uber or taxi.”

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Richards said: “If one was available, there’s an issue of reliability. You have to appreciate the nature of the calls, it’s not just the situation around COVID-19. Our infrastructure is poor, we have breakdowns at the estate.

“Every other day we have to make arrangements to divert ambulances or move wards or move patients to a different location. I don’t think [getting a taxi] would be welcome.”

Judge John Lodge said: “This is a classic exceptional hardship case. It makes perfect sense to remind the appellant that what we have had placed before us is what can only be described as a cavalier approach to the motoring laws in this country.

“There has been an accumulation of points over the last few years for a variety of offences.

“Having had the case presented and heard the evidence we have, it would be so grossly unfair, not on this appellant who is perhaps the least of our concerns, but on the NHS trust currently struggling at its limits, needing all hands on deck, needing leadership and management.

“To ask them to suddenly at the drop of the hat reorganise the position of their departments at one of their hardest times is asking them to take a step too far.”

HertsLive – Hemel Hempstead