by Daphne Liddle
UNISON is demanding a public inquiry and the return of the hospitals to full NHS control following a damning report that has exposed shoddy standards and high death rates in foundation trusts.
The public sector union called for failing foundation status hospitals to be brought back fully into NHS control after an Essex foundation hospital trust controlling two hospitals was found to have very poor hygiene standards and an unusually high death rate. Unison has previously expressed concerns about the private cleaning contractor employed by the trust.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Monitor — the body responsible for regulating self-governing NHS foundation trusts — found blood spattered equipment and other serious hygiene issues as well as excessive death rates at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals.
Previously the trust had awarded itself very high marks — 13 out of 14 — for “safety and cleanliness” in its annual health check report, mainly in the basis of a self-assessment form.
Monitor has ordered the Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Trust to appoint external advisers to manage and report on the delivery of plans to improve the situation.
Unison head of health, Karen Jennings, said: “These reports are a tragedy for patients, their families, and for staff working at the hospital.
“It is cold comfort to Unison that we have been raising problems about the hospital’s privatised cleaning contract for the last six years. We know the cleaning contract was badly drawn up, that there are not enough cleaners, and that those working do not get enough training.
“It is a disgrace that Monitor, the foundation trust regulator, has not stepped in before now. Just under two months ago it rated the hospital good on patient care.
“This is another example of the failure of Monitor, whose time would be spent more effectively if it acted less as a cheerleader for foundation trusts, and focussed more on its proper role of regulating in the interests of patients.
“The Health Act, which received royal assent this month, gives the Secretary of State the power to take a failing foundation trust hospital back into direct NHS management. This new power must now be used.
“To help restore public confidence in the hospital, we need a public inquiry, to give staff, patients, and their families the opportunity to help improve standards of care.”
The Department of Health’s problems multiplied when two days later the monitoring consultancy known as Dr Foster Intelligence reported that 12 NHS hospital trusts in England are “significantly underperforming”, even though they had recently been rated as “excellent”.
Dr Foster began as a private sector monitoring body working on the basis of statistical analysis and produced the Good Hospital Guide. It impressed health secretaries Alan Milburn and Patricia Hewitt so much it became incorporated in a joint venture with the NHS’s Information Centre for Health and Social Care to create the Dr Foster Intelligence consultancy — with £12 million taxpayer funding.
Now the NHS is not so happy with the findings that Dr Foster is delivering. It focuses heavily on death rates but this is a crude measure that does not take into account the different circumstances of different hospitals.
The CQC has rated these 12 hospitals within the last year and found no reason to intervene at the moment.
One trust criticised by Dr Foster said it was “surprised and disappointed”. Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust said it “prided itself” on patient safety, and consistently had one of the lowest hospital-acquired infection rates in the country.
“We fully support the open sharing of information and all patient safety initiatives; however, we feel that the methodology used to calculate this patient safety score is unclear and very difficult for the public to understand.”
It all points to a very confused picture and, with a new round of NHS cuts likely to appear very soon after next year’s general election and whichever government is in power will be using the doubt and confusion to select where to impose cuts.
Tory leader David Cameron has already declared that he will impose the heaviest cuts on hospitals and schools that are performing worst. This is supposed to be an incentive to better performance but it will inflict even more miseries on patients, staff and local communities.