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Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:23 pm on 24th October 2019.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 6:23 pm, 24th October 2019

On the final point made by Gordon Marsden, I would be cautious about that quote because the next line is:

“But when we’ve practiced but a while,

How vastly we improve our style.”

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I note that my hon. Friend Paul Maynard, who is an extremely strong advocate on behalf of his constituents in respect of medical care and the hospital, is here today to listen to the debate.

The hon. Gentleman set out clearly the challenges faced by the trust and the hospital in terms of the geographical context, multiple indices of deprivation and health factors, and the performance and financial issues facing the trust. He is right to emphasise that leadership is a key part of an effective trust. Before turning to that and to the specific points he has raised, I join him in paying tribute to the fantastic work of the staff at the trust, all the way from the consultants to the cleaners and porters—every single person in that team, who I know do everything they can to deliver top-quality care every day. I think we would all recognise that; it is a point of consensus.

The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted the situation that had gone on in respect of the chair—an issue to which my right hon. Friend Stephen Barclay responded during the hon. Gentleman’s Adjournment debate just a little over a year ago. I would not dispute what the hon. Gentleman said about that experience, including the need for proper governance processes to be followed and lessons to be learnt.

Let me turn to the appointment of the chief executive and the process that was followed. I will come to progress made and the broader issues shortly, but I think this was the crux of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, as it goes to a broader concern he expressed about what this may signify in terms of attitude and approach. The focus must always be on what delivers for patient outcomes and patient care, and I will come in a moment to Mr McGee’s qualifications and track record.

The hon. Gentleman says that he—I understand that this is also true for my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool North and Cleveleys and for Fylde (Mark Menzies)—has not yet had the offer of a meeting from the new chief exec. While that is a matter for the chief exec and the trust, I would give some gentle and friendly advice. In my experience, engagement, meetings and an open and trusting relationship with local Members of Parliament is to the benefit of the trust and those who work in it, as well as to the benefit of Members of Parliament. I therefore suggest that holding a meeting swiftly would probably be in everyone’s best interests. I hope that the offer is forthcoming to the hon. Member for Blackpool South and to other hon. Members who have either intervened today or have a constituency interest.

As I know the hon. Gentleman knows, the appointment of a chief executive in an NHS foundation trust is the responsibility of the trust’s non-executive directors, including the chair, with approval from the trust’s council of governors. He touched on the circumstances in which this situation came about—that, following the retirement of former chief executive Wendy Swift in 2018, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust undertook an extensive recruitment exercise to look for a chief executive.

It is my understanding that that exercise failed to find the right person from the point of view of the trust and those responsible for appointments. The chair of the trust and the chair of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust then sought the views of NHS England and NHS Improvement, as they are entitled to do, regarding their proposal for a joint chief executive working across both organisations. Both trusts provided assurances that these proposals would bring benefits to both organisations and, crucially, would improve the care of patients in Blackpool and East Lancashire. On that basis, NHS England and NHS Improvement had no objections to the proposal that was put to them.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned his concerns about the interview process, including the cancellation of interviews. I do not have details about that, but if he writes to me, I would be very happy to look into that specific point, if that is helpful to him.

In the light of the advice from NHS England and NHS Improvement, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust announced in April that Kevin McGee had been appointed as interim chief executive of the trust from 1 May 2019 while retaining his previous post as chief exec and accountable officer of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. On 4 October, both trusts announced they had agreed to work in closer collaboration and to support the appointment of Mr McGee as the chief executive and accountable officer of both trusts and on a permanent basis, which understandably prompted some written parliamentary questions from the hon. Gentleman.

The arrangement that has been put in place for Blackpool is genuinely designed to deliver several benefits, including enhanced quality of care, financial sustainability and improved performance. Mr McGee has a strong track record of significant care quality improvement in the NHS. Under his leadership, he has improved East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust’s CQC quality rating from “requires improvement” to “good”. Furthermore, in a previous chief executive role, he led George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust out of special measures for quality reasons in 2014.

My hon. Friend—indeed, my friend—the Member for Fylde made a typically passionate intervention on behalf of his constituents. I understand that entirely; he is absolutely right to be concerned for their care and always to be promoting the best possible care for them. Clearly, the hospital has need of strong leadership and a chief executive who has experience in turning around and improving hospitals, and since his appointment the new chief executive has commissioned an external review of governance processes.

On the basis of the information that I have from the trust, and NHS England and NHS Improvement, I understand that proper and due process was followed in the chief executive’s appointment, but I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Blackpool South about the cancellation of interviews and similar. As I say, if he wants to add to the letter any other facts that he feels are relevant, I will of course look at them and respond to him as swiftly as I can. As he will know, in addition to appointing a new chief exec, the trust appointed a new director of nursing and medical director in October this year.

The Care Quality Commission published the report of its June 2019 inspection of the trust, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, on 17 October. While it rated that the trust “requires improvement” for quality overall, it did recognise that there had been recent significant leadership changes and that Mr McGee had been in post for only a short time prior to the inspection. I am pleased to note that the CQC rated Blackpool “good” for caring, as he said. That is a testament to the staff, but also, I believe, a positive indicator of the direction of travel.

In the few minutes remaining to me, I will touch on a couple of other factors. The hon. Gentleman talked about mergers. I suspect that part of his concern is that this is a precursor to something that he would not support. It is important—I have spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde about this—that any decisions or discussions reflect the views of local stakeholders, including local Members of Parliament. I would say to the trust that my hon. Friend has been very clear with me that he believes that any merger would be the wrong way forward, and the hon. Member for Blackpool South has also been pretty clear on that. I would hope that the trust will listen to what informed local stakeholders such as Members of Parliament say.

I believe that the trust is learning from its mistakes and that the current chief executive is determined to tackle the quality issues and bring improvements to patient care. It must be given the space to do that. I have put on record what I believe it should reflect on, and I know that the hon. Member for Blackpool South will continue to make his points. I am very happy to meet him, my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde and, indeed, other hon. Members on this matter if they feel that is helpful.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.