The chair of the Commons health select committee and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to Mr Hancock warning there can be no delays in action.
Mr Hunt’s demand follows a leaked letter from the chief inspector of hospitals, revealed by The Independent, which set out widespread safety concerns about the hospital at the centre of a police investigation and inquiry into almost 1,900 cases of poor maternity care – the largest maternity scandal in NHS history.
On 17 July, Jeremy Hunt told his successor: “Rapid and decisive intervention from the centre is now needed. The situation cannot be allowed to carry on where poor care continues for years on end before something is done.”
Mr Hunt said it was clear “that despite public assurances from the trust leadership, many issues there are in fact getting worse not better. As the [Care Quality Commission] states that poor care has become normalised, change needs to happen quickly if patients are to have confidence that they will receive high-quality safe care.”
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) and NHS England met last week to discuss concerns over the trust, and in a published letter NHS England said it would be drafting in senior support to help the trust to improve.
In a reply letter, Amanda Pritchard, chief operating officer at NHS England, said it was agreed the challenges facing the trust were “complex and substantial” and it needed extra “senior onsite support” to deliver “improvements that we expect at pace”.
The CQC’s chief inspector, Ted Baker, warned the only option left for the watchdog if the trust did not improve was “special administration” where the trust could be taken over and services reformed.
NHS England said it intended to hold a “system meeting” involving local organisations and senior executives, including NHS Improvement chair Baroness Dido Harding.
Ms Prichard said: “The purpose of this meeting is to consider the approach the trust is taking to addressing the challenges identified and to review the wrap-around support that is being put in place and what other support may be required for success.”
Key plans include a new “improvement team” led by an onsite “senior improvement director” who will focus on “direct support, challenge and coaching for the board and chief executive”.
Other measures include:
- Senior dedicated support to the trust’s medical director to help embed “professional accountability” and boost leadership
- Expedited recruitment of a new director of nursing, with two retired directors of nursing brought in to focus on “professional standards, nursing engagement, roles, responsibilities and accountability” to provide “constant reinforcement of what ‘good’ looks like”, including an emphasis on fundamental nursing care
- A new human resources lead to help “cultural transformation”
- A dedicated maternity improvement programme
- New support to improve the use of data
- A new financial improvement director
Amanda Pritchard told the CQC: “The intention is to ensure that all of the elements of the support package, including the outcomes from the forthcoming board to system meeting, will be implemented at pace and in fact some measures have already been put in place.
“While continuing to review the impact closely, as agreed last week, we will need to allow additional measures time to embed if the trust is to deliver tangible benefits to patients, but we will reflect on whether further measure are required in the short term.”
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