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Barts Health NHS Trust is no ordinary hospital trust: it is the largest NHS trust in England, employing more than 14,000 staff and treating patients from all over London and indeed the whole country. Importantly, it is also one of the few trusts directly managed by the Trust Development Authority and the Department of Health.
Is it not true that the problems at Whipps Cross have been known for some time and have not just been uncovered this week? Is it not also true that these problems have been allowed to get worse over the past two years, with 208 serious incidents in the last year alone, and that specific warnings have not been acted on? Given all this, is it not a cause for real concern that this trust has become the 20th to be placed in special measures under this Government? People in east London need to know why, and what is being done to bring their hospital back up to an acceptable standard. Does the Minister accept that, given the seriousness of this issue, they are entitled to be disappointed that the Secretary of State is not here today to respond to these concerns?
One of the report’s main conclusions is that the root cause of care problems in the past two years was the reorganisation of the trusts in 2013. It states that
“the decision…to remove 220 posts across the trust and down band several hundred more nursing staff had a significant impact on staff morale and has stretched staffing levels in many areas”.
These findings raise significant questions for the Department and Ministers. Given that it is a directly managed trust, was a proper assessment made of the reorganisation plans, and was it signed off by Ministers? Why did Ministers overrule the Co-operation and Competition Panel, which advised against the proposed merger and warned of material costs to patients? What action did the TDA, the Department and Ministers take on the warnings raised at the time?
The Minister will know that my hon. Friend John Cryer—I am afraid he has a constituency engagement this morning; otherwise, he would have been here—and, as I understand it, her Cabinet colleague Mr Duncan Smith, raised specific concerns about the decision to remove the management structure from Whipps Cross Hospital, concerns echoed by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy. Why were those concerns ignored, leaving Whipps Cross without an adequate management structure?
Looking ahead, can the Minister say more about what is now being done to improve management at Whipps Cross, and to reassure local people that their hospital is safe? What immediate steps are being taken to improve staff numbers? On finance, is she aware that the bill for agency staff across the trust has gone up by a huge 44% in the last year alone, and what is she doing to bring that down? It is unsustainable and unaffordable, but it is also damaging standards of patient care on the ward and continuity of care.
The inspection took place in November. Why was it published only this week—one day before the Budget? Given that this is about a failure of NHS management, why is the Department of Health still sitting on the report by Lord Rose on NHS management? Will the Minister give a firm commitment to this House today that it will be published before Parliament is dissolved?
This report has been widely described as the worst assessment ever seen from the CQC. It will be seen as a symbol of the decline of the NHS on this Government’s watch, and people are looking now, today, for an urgent plan to turn things around.