The NHS's longest serving chief executive in Britain 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 this year, a decision which angered a number of staff and governors.
Fenwick, 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.
Fenwick 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 Fenwick 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 Fenwick 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.
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.
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 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."