Chairman fired as another NHS trust is censured

Up to eight more hospitals under investigation after damning report reveals unacceptable death rate at Colchester hospital
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A third NHS Foundation hospital with a high death rate, long waiting times and poor leadership was marked as "failed" yesterday and its chairman sacked as details emerged of 26 hospitals across the NHS with mortality rates higher than expected.

Richard Bourne, chairman of the Colchester University Hospitals Foundation NHS Trust, was dismissed from his £40,000-a-year post just two months after his appointment had been renewed by the trust board. Two weeks ago medical staff at the trust passed a vote of no confidence in him.

The move, by the foundation trust regulator Monitor, was disclosed 24 hours after Monitor ordered a hit squad into the nearby Basildon NHS Trust, where poor care and a filthy environment in its accident and emergency unit are thought to have contributed to 400 deaths.

In a statement issued yesterday, Monitor said Colchester hospital had a death rate 12 per cent above the national average and had failed repeatedly to meet the 18-week waiting-list target, the four-hour A&E target and the cancer waiting-time targets. Measures of patient satisfaction and board governance were also poor. Tomorrow, Dr Foster, an organisation that gathers performance data for the NHS, is to publish death rates for every hospital in England which will show 26 are giving cause for concern.

The shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, commenting on the revelations about Basildon, said yesterday: "I am extremely concerned that a number of other hospitals also have high death rates. While I know that some of them are good hospitals that perform well, the public needs to know that the inspectors and the Government are doing everything they can to ensure that public safety is not being put at risk."

The disclosure of poor care at Colchester and Basildon hospitals followed the scandal at Mid Staffordhire NHS Trust last March, where an investigation revealed apalling standards of care and showed between 400 and 1,200 more deaths had occurred than the national average in the three years to 2007-08.

In the NHS performance ratings for 2008-9, published by the Care Quality Commission last October, Colchester scored "Fair" on the quality of its service, two grades below the "Excellent" it scored in 2007-8. It is unusual for any hospital to drop two grades in a year. Although the trust's poor showing had aroused concerns at the CQC, it was not considered bad enough to trigger action.

Monitor, however, took a different view. Its chairman, Dr William Moyes, said: "For the last six months we have been meeting the trust with increasing frequency to point out a lot of things that were not up to spec. The conclusion we've reached is that, under the present leadership, they have not been dealing with these issues fast enough. This is about making sure the trust is in a position to identify risks that affect patient services and deliver an effective response."

The Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell, who represents Colchester, said: "You have to ask what has Monitor been doing if their role has been to monitor this and the situation has deteriorated so badly. The notion that one man should take all the rap for all this is something that has to be looked at." Baroness Young, chair of the CQC, admitted that the current inspection system was flawed. She said reforms would soon be in place.

Earlier this month, the outgoing chairman, Mr Bourne, accused Monitor of being "grossly unfair" and full of "intimidation". In an email to other foundation trusts, seen by the Health Service Journal, Mr Bourne said Monitor's process ignored evidence of a favourable nature.

* There were reports last night that up to eight others were being investigated for below-par performance.

The chairman of the NHS Foundation Trust regulator, Monitor, told the BBC that out of 125 foundation trusts, no more than a "handful" were being closely scrutinised for possible poor performance. William Moyes did not identify the trusts in question.