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The hon. Gentleman speaks very powerfully about the whole process, and I agree with him exactly. Sadly, in the “not good enough” CQC report about the inspection in June, which came out just last week, ample and damning concerns are exposed. There was a continuing series of “requiring improvements” for safety, effectiveness and responsiveness; and one “good” for caring, which speaks volumes for the staff. The biggest black mark went against leadership. When asked to judge whether the trust was well led, the CQC said that it was not, and that it was “inadequate”. It gave chapter and verse on the issues. I cannot read all of it out, but I will give the Minister a selection:
“There was limited understanding of the importance of culture…Staff did not feel respected, valued, supported or appreciated by some members of the board…When something went wrong, people were not always told, did not consistently receive an apology…There were levels of bullying, harassment, discrimination and the organisation was not taking adequate action to reduce this…When staff raised concerns, they were not treated with respect, or the culture, policies and procedures did not provide adequate support for them to do so…We heard from several staff groups particularly those from a BME background.”
I have spoken to the CQC since the report came out and asked it to clarify exactly when it got these comments from staff and when it investigated them. It was confirmed that it was the period between March 2018 and June 2019, three quarters of which had been under Pearse Butler’s chairmanship. I asked whether there had been any discussion about the possibility of any future merger/collaboration, and was told that there had been discussions with NHSI and that it was likely—this was in June—that Mr McGee would be able to take that through. That is further evidence, if any more were needed, of this all being sorted out by the people in the bubble between June and August. There was very little evidence that they thought there was anything wrong, but of course there is something wrong—massively wrong. Let us add to this a small number of people in that bubble, in this case spearheaded by the chief executive. Yes, these decisions will affect all of our constituents.
The fact of the matter is that the implications of this merger—because that is what it is—are massive. Will the two organisations fit? How will Mr McGee handle both? Why were the governors not given the full facts? East Lancashire, which is a good trust, covers Blackburn, Accrington, Burnley, Clitheroe, Pendle, Colne and Darwen. They are all very different places in terms of geography, demographics and ethnicities. All are a very long way from some of the coastal concerns of this hospital trust. If the people of East Lancashire look to anywhere, proud inland communities though they are, they look— dare I say it—to the Pennines or to Greater Manchester. The idea that this is going to work very easily is for the birds.
Foundation trusts were established under a quid pro quo system. They have wide powers of initiative but, in return, the public and external stakeholders have a right to be properly informed, consulted and assured that process is properly applied. In this case, that has not happened. What was needed was proper scrutiny, not winks and nods from a cosy clique within the bubble and nothing that would make the culture inadequate, as was so devastatingly laid out by the CQC. I have no doubt that some of these appointments may in themselves be good—I have met the new nursing director—but the culture over which Pearse Butler has presided over the past year has attracted these black marks.
I will conclude by saying that we really must make sure that we see a turnover from this catalogue of half-truths and evasions, and that there is a proper consultation, involving all stakeholders, about a process that is effectively a merger. Perhaps someone needs to say to the chair and some others in the trust the good words of Robbie Burns:
“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive.”