Martin Hill: Helping our hospitals back to health

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Local people always tell me that few things – if any – are as important to them as the quality of hospital services.

It is therefore very concerning that United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust has again been put into special measures.

Following inspections in Lincoln, Boston and Grantham in the autumn, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has given the trust an overall rating of “inadequate”.

The CQC has now called for action to be taken to address a range of problems, particularly to improve the safety and leadership of services.

The latest setback comes just two years after our hospitals left special measures following a previous critical inspection.

All of us had hoped that the trust would be able to build on that achievement, but instead it has clearly slipped back.

I believe passionately that Lincolnshire people deserve a first-rate health service, with good hospitals at its very heart.

However, the trust clearly has some considerable work to do to bring this about, as its chief executive, Jan Sobieraj, has admitted.

He said: “The safety and quality of patient care is our number one priority. We’re disappointed with some of the findings in the report, but we’re taking them very seriously. We are sorry to our patients as we know this isn’t good enough.”

The CQC findings are an additional difficulty for local health services, at a time when the future is already uncertain.

Last month, Lincolnshire County Council’s executive raised concerns about a Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for Lincolnshire.

Produced by NHS senior clinicians and managers, it sets out a single five-year plan for health and care, although it’s far from clear how the £205 million cost would be funded.

Going back to the CQC inspection, it’s reassuring that operations and surgery were mostly given better ratings.

However, the inadequate score for emergency response is a particular worry, as that surely is the basis of a properly functioning health system.

On staffing, the report said the trust’s proportion of consultants was about the same as the England average, while the level of junior doctors was higher.

That suggests there are other fundamental problems to address, such as an over-reliance on locums and temporary staff, which is both expensive and inefficient.

Looking ahead, the trust says it has a detailed plan in place to address the CQC’s concerns, and that real progress has already been made.

That is to be welcomed, and the county council will do everything it can to support ULHT in its efforts – both on hospital services and the STP.

However, that support will not be given if we believe that the principle of a comprehensive, safe and accessible health service is being compromised across our large rural county.

I am sure that local health managers would agree with that sentiment.