THE House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on the requirement for all the remaining 113 hospital trusts to achieve foundation business status has warned: ‘Twenty hospital trusts have declared themselves unviable even in their current form.’
It added: ‘The challenges facing those hospitals which have still to attain foundation status are more severe than previously thought.’
The MPs continued: ‘Moreover, half of all trusts are not yet foundation trusts and more are likely to conclude they are unviable.
‘A particular concern is what will happen to trusts that are unable to achieve foundation status but nevertheless provide an essential service to local people.
‘In most of these cases, mergers and reconfigurations will be inevitable…
‘At least half of non-specialist acute hospitals in London are not viable in their current form, with some heavily indebted trusts providing poor services.
‘We remain to be convinced that combining struggling hospitals into larger trusts, as with South London, is a realistic way to create viable organisations which provide equal access to good quality healthcare to everybody.
‘Reconfiguration will inevitably reduce the range of services provided by some hospitals…
‘PFI is an additional challenge facing a few hospitals and PFI service charges are contributing significantly to some trusts’ financial problems.
‘Analysis commissioned by the Department has identified six trusts where their PFI contract is a major obstacle to them becoming financially viable.’
Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, responded: ‘It must be remembered that foundation trust status does not necessarily mean better health care, as patients at Mid Staffordshire Hospital NHS Trust know only too well.
‘The focus on budgets and targets at the top of the trust, diverted attention away from patients and standards of care on the wards.
‘Unison has long warned of the dangers created by the PFI for the future sustainability of trusts.’
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the BMA’s Consultants Committee, said: ‘To provide key services to patients, we need NHS structures that support co-ordination and co-operation.
‘However, the government places the highest priority on each hospital achieving foundation status.
‘It’s wrong to force organisational change for the sake of dogma when we have enough of a challenge in continually changing the NHS to use medical advances to better serve the needs of patients.’
RCN general secretary Dr Peter Carter accepted the move to foundation status but warned: ‘As previous examples have shown, when trusts are made to fit models that don’t work for them, patient safety can be put at risk.’
The NASUWT teachers union yesterday slammed the awarding of a £21m contract to a Swedish company to manage a proposed free school in Suffolk.
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: ‘It is nothing short of scandalous that the future of our children and young people is now up for sale to the highest bidder.’
The ten-year contract for Breckland Free School, won by IES UK, is believed to be the most extensive of such school management contracts so far announced.
The final proposals for the secondary school in Brandon were submitted this week.
A group of families wanting to set up the school expect to hear in January whether it has been approved by the Department for Education.
Meanwhile, commenting on the Key Stage 2 Sats test results for England in 2010/11, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said he will pay particular attention to schools which have performed consistently badly over the past five years, whether through conversion to a sponsored academy or other measures.
National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower responded: ‘League tables do not give a rounded picture of the real achievement of schools.
‘All schools operate in unique circumstances and they should not be judged on where they rank in league tables alone.
‘The government’s real agenda here is its intention to force hundreds of primary schools into academy status.
‘Having failed to persuade the majority of primaries to become academies, the government has resorted to nothing short of bullying to achieve their overriding objective.
‘This is simply a way of bringing in the chains and private sponsors to run our schools, while at the same time destroying local authority services and getting rid of our community schools. This is not an agenda about standards but has everything to do with privatisation.’