Unison And Management At Loggerheads Over Hinchingbrooke Hospital

hinchingbrooke07:39 Thursday 26th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: A Cambridgeshire hospital has come in for some serious criticism at the Labour Party conference. Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon was taken over by a private company of course, Circle HealthCare, around eighteen months ago. The hospital was nearly £40 million in debt at the time. Yesterday at the Labour conference Linda Hobson from the union Unison said things at the hospital had actually gone from bad to worse since they took over.
LINDA HOBSON: The Circle franchise at Hinchingbrookes in Cambridgshire is failing to make the savings as promised. It has had to be bailed out by the NHS, and is cutting jobs. Conference, far from being protected from the cuts, our NHS has been starved of the funds it needs. So-called efficiency savings, rather than being reinvested back into patient care, have been clawed back by Osborne as he tries to buy votes, ahead of the 2015 election.
PAUL STAINTON: Let’s speak to Tracey Lambert. She’s the Head of Health for Unison in the East of England. Good morning Tracey.
TRACEY LAMBERT: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: What does Linda know? She’s a councillor in Newcastle, isn’t she?
TRACEY LAMBERT: Well we’ve had running now for at least three years a campaign and an information campaign in relation to the franchising of Hinchingbrooke by Circle. So it’s well known throughout the organisation. And it was a national publicity campaign, national BBC took up the issue. And of course now Circle are bidding to franchise for hospitals in the West Midlands and in the South West. So they’re trying to take what they’ve done at Hinchingbrooke, which I would agree with Linda has not worked ..
PAUL STAINTON: Well why? Why would you say it’s not worked? Where’s your proof? Because we hear from time to time that they’re doing a good job, that things are going well.
TRACEY LAMBERT: Well, you have to measure, in terms of how well they’re doing, by the eradication of the debt, and the reducing of the debt, which is why they were given the franchise in the first place. And that debt remains the same.
PAUL STAINTON: Well with us is Dr Hisham Abdel-Rahman, the Chief Executive of Hinchingbrooke Hospital. Is that how you measure it? Success.

HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: Well I don’t think so. I think you have to remember that hospitals are first and foremost about providing high quality services fror the patients. The reason why the hospital went for franchise was both on clinical quality as well as finance. And that has been always consistently ignored by Unison.
TRACEY LAMBERT: No. That’s not true, because ..
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: Can I just … please. Allow me to speak. So if you do remember we were ranked 102nd in the A&E performance. Our (UNCLEAR) services were suspended. The Deanery, which is responsible for the training of junior doctors, threatened that they would withdraw the trainees for (UNCLEAR). If you look to the latest figure, if you do respect what patients say about the services, in the Family and Friends test which is a test asking patients using services in the Hospital, do you highly recommend this hospital for your family and friends, if you look to the latest, we are almost consistently top ten ranked. And for the last two months we are the top acute hospital in the country.
PAUL STAINTON: Tracey, you wanted to get in. Jump in.
TRACEY LAMBERT: I did actually, because the propaganda by Circle from the very beginning has been that Hinchingbrooke was a failing hospital. It was actually ranked top ten of district general hospitals in the whole country prior to the tendering process.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: That is not true. I am a gynecologist by the way. I am not a manager.
TRACEY LAMBERT: It was in the top ten.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: I am a gynecologist. I have been working in the Hospital since 2000. So I know my hospital better than you. You are the one using propaganda …
PAUL STAINTON: Hisham. Hisham
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: .. your ideology.
PAUL STAINTON: can I just let Tracey finish her point.
TRACEY LAMBERT: Can you just let me finish? Because actually the National Audit Office, the Health Select Committee, the Finance Select Committee, have all said, not just Unison, that the tendering process and the awarding of the contract to Circle was a big mistake. You were brought in to cut the debt. You haven’t done that. The services were good at Hinchingbrooke. The staff morale is low. You’ve made redundancies. We’ve now been told that actually the redundancies were a mistake. They’re now advertising for staff. You’re advertising for volunteers to come in and do work that was previously done by staff. You have had bail-outs from central government last year, because you are not reducing the debt.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: Can I just answer all these allegations?
PAUL STAINTON: Yes Hisham. have your turn. Go on.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: Yes. So the first answer, we did not make any redundancies last year. That is untrue. Secondly everybody recognised to improve, continously improve services you need more nurses on the shop floor. Thirdly, everybody respects the role of the volunteers in providing services at the Hospital. Our hospital would not have survived for the last ten years ..
PAUL STAINTON: Are you cutting the debt though Hisham? Hisham, is the debt going down? Or are you behind on your targets?
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: I’m sorry? No I’m not. We used to have a £10 million deficit every year. And we reduced that to £3.5 million last year, without a penny ..
TRACEY LAMBERT: With the bailout.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: .. without a penny paid by the taxpayer.
TRACEY LAMBERT: It’s not true. You got £10 million from the Strategic Health Authority …
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: That is not true.
TRACEY LAMBERT: .. in May last year.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: That is untrue. We had a £10 million deficit for our budget.
TRACEY LAMBERT: The National Audit Office are lying then.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: No. That is untrue again. We reduced it to £3.5 million.
PAUL STAINTON: The National Audit Office are lying are they?
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: We .. Circle paid the £3.5 million. Thye taxpayer did not pay a penny last year.
TRACEY LAMBERT: It’s not true. The National Audit Office and the Health and Finance Select Committee, independent organisations, both criticised Circle and the SHA for the contract, and for the bailout. That’s not Unison. That’s fact. That is on ..
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: You are confusing the facts again.
PAUL STAINTON: Let Hisham respond.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: This is confusing the issues. If you talk about last year’s budget, and how it was handled, there was £10 million deficit. We reduced it to £3.5 million, paid fully by Circle. Not a penny by the taxpayer.
PAUL STAINTON: Have you had any bailouts from the taxpayer?
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: We did not have a single penny paid by the taxpayer last year. What the Audit Office criticised was that there was a PFI to be built in Peterborough. Hinchingbrooke at the time was in historical debt. They felt why on earth did you allow a new PFi to be built in Peterborough, when you have financial deficit in Hinchingbrooke. And an arrangement between the two hospitals could have saved both hospitals. That ‘s a completely different argument about the finances of Hinchingbrooke by Circle is not on track, or that the taxpayer had to bail out Hinchingbrooke or Circle (UNCLEAR) last year.
TRACEY LAMBERT: Right. I’ll send to the BBC ..
PAUL STAINTON: Right Tracey.
TRACEY LAMBERT: I’ll send to the BBC the details of the bail out from the Strategic Health Authority, and also I can tell you Unison members who were made redundant last year. They may have taken voluntary redundancy, but they were made redundant.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: Can I just invite you for once rather than getting .. collecting information from here or there which are not correct, trying to make something out of them, and talk down the hard working people in Hinchingbrooke ..
TRACEY LAMBERT: I’m not talking down ..
TRACEY LAMBERT: Our members work extremely hard ..
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: Why don’t you come and visit the Hospital. You are most welcome to come and visit.
TRACEY LAMBERT: I go to the Hospital all the time.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: I’m happy to open my doors to you. You can meet my staff. You can see the patients and talk to them yourself.
TRACEY LAMBERT: We will be at the Hospital AGM tonight, and our members, your staff, will tell you about the low morale. They do work incredibly hard at that hospital, and have continued to work hard during the lifetime of that hospital.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: I meet Unison members in my hospital all the time. Their morale is not low. They are valuable members of the Hospital, and you ‘re completely out of touch with your local members. So I’m inviting you, not my local members which I know quite well, I’m inviting you or your high office members to come to the Hospital. Don’t hide behind the local people who are working hard and actually are working with us. You come to the Hospital, meet the staff and meet the patients.
TRACEY LAMBERT: I do that. I was talking to your members yesterday. I am not out of touch.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: Have the courage to come yourself. Don’t hide.
TRACEY LAMBERT: And I will provide for the meeting tonight the details of the redundancies ..
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: I am giving you the opportunity …
TRACEY LAMBERT: and the bail outs from the Strategic Health Authority.
HISHAM ABDEL-RAHMAN: .. to meet the staff and the patients. Do not hide in your office. Come and meet the staff.
TRACEY LAMBERT: I don’t hide in my office. I come to the Hospital. I met with our members from the Hospital yesterday, and Circle have continued to mislead the general public. We have documents that show that you received money from the Strategic Health Authority.
PAUL STAINTON: Guys, we’ve got to leave it there. I don’t think we’re going to agree on much are we? The longer we go on the less you seem to agree on. That’s Dr Hisham Abdel-Rahman Chief Executive of Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Tracey Lambert, Head of Health for Unison in the East of England.