NHS rescue call for Hinchingbrooke as Circle Health withdraw

hinchingbrooke_hospital17:09 Tuesday 10th February 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The first privately managed NHS hospital in the country has just applied for a £9.6 million Government bailout. Last month you may remember the health care company Circle announced it was pulling out of a ten year contract to run the hospital, just hours before the release of a Care Quality Commission report, which found the facility to be inadequate. This afternoon the hospitals Board of Directors held its first public meeting since that damning report. In a moment or two I’ll be getting reaction from a union representative and also a consultant in health care, but first of all our reporter Heather Noble is with me. Heather’s got the background to the story first of all.
HEATHER NOBLE: Yes. On 9th January Circle said its franchise was no longer viable under the current terms, and that it would end the deal by 31st march. Under the terms of its contract Circle retained the right to end the franchise, if the amount of money it put into the Trust exceeded £5 million, a sum which the spokesman said had been reached. The same day the Hospital was placed in special measures, following a Care Quality Commission inspection. The health watchdog rated Hinchingbrooke as inadequate, highlighting particular concerns over Accident & Emergency and medical care.
CHRIS MANN: So the Board of Directors holding its first public meeting today. What happened?
HEATHER NOBLE: Well we heard that Hinchingbrooke on Circle’s departure will be left with a deficit for this financial year of between £7 million and £12 million. Circle said it’s saved the taxpayer £23 million. It’s made 5% savings each year as planned. But with high A&E admissions and reduced funding the Trust now needs further investment. It applied to the NHS Trust Development Authority for £9.6 million.
CHRIS MANN: And what was said about the staff today? Because of course they did come under fire didn’t they in the CQC report Heather, don’t you think? (technical hitch) OK we’ll get more on that a bit later on. That was Heather Noble with that report. Let’s now get reaction to that from two guests that we have for you now. Let’s bring in Jo Rust from the union Unison. hello Jo.
JO RUST: Good afternoon.
CHRIS MANN: And it’s Michelle Tempest, who’s a consultant at Candesic the health care consultancy. Hi Michelle.
MICHELLE TEMPEST: Hello. Pleasure to be on Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Jo first of all, obviously great concern amongst the staff there. Were they criticised today, do you know?
JO RUST: Sorry would you repeat that. You phased out.
CHRIS MANN: Were staff criticised today and in the report?
JO RUST: There were concerns over some aspects of staffing, but it was pointed out that the staff have been working under incredible pressure. And certainly the Acute section, which did come under particular fire from the CQC, the staff have been working incredibly hard under really difficult circumstances, because of the increased amount of activity. They’ve seen higher than ever, a 20% increase in the amount of people that have been accessing the service. So they’ve been under great stress and pressure.
CHRIS MANN: Michelle, it’s a fine mess, isn’t it? In your role as a consultant, looking at it from the outside, what’s the way forward?
MICHELLE TEMPEST: Well I think one of the ways forward, or another question could be, what’s actually stopping it moving forward. Actually it could be because it’s 100 days until the next General Election. And really what something like this needs is a root and branch review. Effectively the Hospital ran out of money. We’re left with the NHS trying to pick up the pieces. The local population are no doubt really concerned about where they’re going to access their health care. And there is a question about the health care economy. So something like that kind of hospital, Hinchingbrooke Hospital, really could offer a fantastic community hospital. But is it actually set up to be a community provider or a specialist provider?
CHRIS MANN: OK. Well while we’re waiting for that review to take place, obviously the place needs to be run day to day.
CHRIS MANN: So should the Government continue to pump money in regardless?
MICHELLE TEMPEST: Well yes, if it was a private company, that a private company had said well we’ve made pretty aggressive cost savings, they’ve been trying to do 5% per year. Maybe the NHS can do more with the fact that they can actually link up in a more community-wide way. So for instance perhaps what Hinchingbrooke needs to do is to link up more with the big beast of Addenbrookes, and actually start doing more integrated care. So the question I guess I would ask is actually should this have happened five years ago, or have we actually been wasting time.
CHRIS MANN: Jo Rust from Unison. What are the key things for you?
JO RUST: Well (I believe) there are dangers from linking up with Addenbrookes, because that’s been on Black Alert for some time. And isn’t one of the issues the fact that the targets the Government are setting for 4% efficiency savings are totally unrealistic? They are underfunding the NHS, and it’s been propped up by the goodwill of the staff. And that just cannot continue.
CHRIS MANN: Michelle Tempest.
MICHELLE TEMPEST: I totally agree with that. The staff are under huge amounts of pressure. They’re doing absolutely their best. They’re firefighting every single day. But you can’t just let a hospital stop running from one day to the next. It’s something that takes planning. And I would suggest that actually this is something that you should have been planning five years ago.
CHRIS MANN: It’s all very well saying that, but obviously there’s an emergency situation right now. So the question is should the Government just keep putting money in regardless?
MICHELLE TEMPEST: Well just as in any business you have to put money in whilst you sort out the strategy. So I guess it’s effective. At least now there may be some clarity in the fact that if the NHS takes it back over in March, then they can actually start planning for the future. And actually the disintegration that happened in the past perhaps have prevented that process.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Jo Rust, the NHS taking over in March. Is that the ideal solution for you?
JO RUST: It’s certainly good news and as we wanted. We don’t think it’s appropriate that private sector companies should attempt to make a profit out of ill health. And we’re very glad that it’s coming back into the hands of the NHS. That’s not to say that we didn’t want .. it certainly wasn’t our intention for our staff to suffer the stress and pressure that they have done under Circle. And at all times the trade unions decided to work with them,
CHRIS MANN: Of course before Circle it wasn’t an ideal situation either. People complained about the way it was run there.
JO RUST: Yes but in matter of fact it was set up. It used to be, you don’t have to look too far back to see that it was an absolutely excellent district general hospital. It had a brilliant reputation. And again it was funding issues that put it in a precarious financial state that caused the upset we’re now seeing.
CHRIS MANN: OK. We have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining me. That’s Jo Rust from Unison and Michelle Tempest from Candesic the health care consultancy.