Weston Hospital was ranked in the top six most clinically efficient hospitals in the country in 2012 in the respected and influential Dr Foster Good Hospital guide. It was also assessed as the most improved performer in relation to patient safety. Yet Weston Trust is having to look for a partner because under existing rules it is deemed too small to become a stand alone NHS Foundation Trust.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for staff and local health services. Whilst all the staff unions recognise the case for change, all are opposed to a private company taking over the Trust.
Staff were told in March this year that an advert had been placed inviting ‘prospective partners’ including private companies to express an interest in taking over the running of local NHS services. We now know that 11 replies were received. But we haven’t been told who replied or even how many were private companies and how many were other NHS organisations.
We do know that the Trust has appointed an expensive firm of financial consultants - PWC – and a top firm of city lawyers to help with the project.
A Stakeholder and Quality Assurance Group (SQAG) has also been set up by the Trust. The Trust says this will ensure that ‘staff, local organisations and patient representatives are kept fully up the speed with progress ….. and are able to shape the project’. But at a recent meeting, Trust management were less than forthcoming in answering questions from the staff trade unions about the project or providing the unions with copies of key project documents.
The Stakeholder Group decided at its first meeting to issue a communiqué at the end of all of its meetings. We hope the intention isn’t to restrict in any way members of the SQAG from reporting fully to the organisations they represent and commenting publicly on any concerns they may have. The SQAG mustn’t become a vehicle for the Trust to legitimise a certain outcome.
The lack of openness in Weston is in sharp contrast to an apparently more open approach by health bosses at the George Elliot Hospital Trust in Nuneaton, Warwickshire where similar plans are being considered. There, the Trust has published all of the key documents on its web site including copies of the strategic and outline business cases for change, and all updates, as well as informative reports to the Trust’s Executive Team overseeing the project.
One of the options under consideration in both Nuneaton and here in Weston is to hand the Trust over to a private company who would run it for profit.
The first such NHS hospital to be privatised in this way was Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire. Hinchingbrooke was franchised to private company Circle in November 2011 for a period of 10 years. Circle promised unprecedented savings. Government ministers were clearly in a hurry to give privatisation of the NHS a kick-start. Yet a year on, MPs on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee who investigated the deal described the savings plan as ‘over ambitious’ and ‘unachievable’. Despite promises to pay off Hinchingbrooke Hospital’s debts this is unlikely to happen. Indeed it emerged that the deal was structured to allow Circle to take a profit of £2m each year and not pay down the debt. Despite plans to break even in the first year, the Trust is currently forecasting a deficit of £3.7m. Circle also parted ways with its Chief Executive only 6 months into the project.
The MPs commented that ‘franchising’ in the NHS is untested and were considered that others were considering going down the same road before the full outcomes of Hinchingbrooke can be tested.
The MPs on the PAC made a series of recommendations aimed at preventing a repeat of the clear mistakes made at Hinchingbrooke.
UNISON is opposed to the privatisation option. We will be campaigning to retain Weston Hospital as an NHS run hospital. We want the Trust to be completely open about its plans and publish every piece of information available as part of the process it is going through.
In short we need to know:
- How practically the Trust will ensure that it genuinely engages with and involves staff and the community in the future of the WHAT?
- Will it publish everything in a timely manner, and make it clear immediately what it is not publishing and why not?
- Will the Trust publish the Strategic Business Cases (already approved!) and the DRAFT Outline Business Case, any future revisions, and ensure that staff and the community have a proper opportunity to scrutinise and comment on the OBC before any key decisions are made.
- Any conflicts of interest already declared by members of the Trust Project Board and the Stakeholder Group.
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