Public sector trade union Unison yesterday called for Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to be taken back under NHS control.
It also called for a public inquiry into patient care at the Trust’s Basildon and Orsett hospitals.
The call follows unusually high death rates at the hospital, and Care Quality Commission (CQC) investigators uncovering poor hygiene standards and out-of-date equipment still in use.
Unison Head of Health, Karen Jennings, said: ‘These reports are a tragedy for patients, their families, and for staff working at the hospital. It is cold comfort to Unison that we have been raising problems about the hospital’s privatised cleaning contract for the last six years.
‘We know the cleaning contract was badly drawn up, that there are not enough cleaners, and that those working do not get enough training. It is a disgrace that Monitor, the foundation trust regulator, has not stepped in before now.
‘Just under two months ago it rated the hospital good on patient care. This is another example of the failure of Monitor, whose time would be spent more effectively if it acted less as a cheerleader for foundation trusts, and focused more on its proper role of regulating in the interests of patients.
‘The Health Act which received royal assent this month, gives the Secretary of State the power to take a failing foundation trust hospital back into direct NHS management. This new power must now be used.
‘To help restore public confidence in the hospital, we need a public inquiry, to give staff, patients and their families the opportunity to help improve standards of care.’
Monitor is now using its powers of intervention to bring in private consultants or even private management to run the Essex hospitals. It is ‘requiring the Trust Board’ to ‘appoint external advisers, agreed with Monitor, as an expert taskforce to manage and report on the delivery of plans to improve quality of service.’ The Trust’s ‘performance will be measured and reviewed monthly’.
NHS watchdog, Care Quality Commission (CQC) chief executive Cynthia Bower who, as head of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority, presided over cuts at mid-Staffordshire hospital, warned that the CQC is looking at closing the Essex hospitals.
Bower said: ‘From next April, our new regulatory regime will apply, and with this will come a range of further strong powers to bring about change. . . Without radical improvement, Basildon’s registration will be affected.’
Speaking in a personal capacity, British Medical Association (BMA) Council member, consultant surgeon Mrs Anna Athow told News Line yesterday: ‘Like all foundation trust businesses, Basildon has to break even or make a surplus.
‘The solution to the hospital’s problems is to provide sufficient funding for it to employ enough staff to care for the patients properly. Far from recommending this, Cynthia Bower is now threatening that if the hospital cannot rapidly improve, it may fail its registration in April.
‘Failure of registration could open up the possibility of this hospital being transferred to new management, which could be private management. What is needed is the end to market-based policies, forcing hospitals to run as businesses, and proper funding of hospitals to provide full services to their catchment population. The trade unions must take action to defend the NHS.’