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Healthcare Commission looks into concerns at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust

Healthcare Commission : 18 October, 2007  (New Product)
The Healthcare Commission is to look into concerns at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust.
The trust has recognised its shortcomings and has agreed to work with the Commission in order to help assure the safety of patients as quickly as possible.

In 2005/06, the trust, which serves the majority of Cornwall, was identified as meeting just 25 of the Government’s 44 core healthcare standards. This saw it ranked ‘weak’ in the Commission’s annual health check.

The ‘Standards for Better Health’ cover areas such as clinical quality, safety, waiting times, whether patients are treated with dignity and whether everything possible is being done to control infection and ensure cleanliness.

Earlier this year, a new chief executive was appointed. Other key changes to the leadership followed, including an interim chair in May 2007.

The new chief executive ordered a review of the trust’s compliance with the standards. This found that they were only compliant with 13 of the 44 standards.

In May 2007, the trust’s board confirmed this when they declared compliance with 13 of the 44 standards for the 2006/07 assessment year.

In the 2006/07 annual health check, the trust has scored ‘weak’ in both the quality of its services and the use of its resources. This was the poorest record of any of the country’s 394 trusts.

The new management team is in the process of implementing changes to ways of working in the trust. There is an acknowledgement of the previous poor performance of the trust and a willingness to work with the Healthcare Commission to ensure sustained improvement.

For this reason, a team will work with the trust to establish whether, in recognising the extent of the previous problems, the trust is taking the necessary action to deal with them.

The Commission’s checks on core standards are part of a pioneering system of NHS assessment that uses self-declaration, performance data and inspection to target regulatory efforts where there is evidence of a problem.

Where it finds lapses, the Commission’s response can vary, ranging from requiring an action plan to carrying out announced and unannounced visits or, in certain worst cases, launching a formal investigation.

The Commission is able to intervene if it believes there are serious shortcomings and the trust needs to take action to assure the safety of patients. Often, the problem areas have been identified and the trust has co-operated fully, accepting the need for change and improvement. By intervening, we expect that change can be achieved in a timely way.

The main area of concern at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust is the trust’s failure to meet so many of the core standards, especially those related to assuring the safety of patients.

The focus of the Commission team’s work will be in examining the trust’s governance systems, especially those related to the management of risk. As part of this the Commission will visit the organisation, interview key staff and examine relevant documentation.

Formal recommendations for improvement will then be proposed, and progress monitored. Should concerns increase that the necessary actions are not being taken, a formal investigation can be launched.

Nigel Ellis, head of investigations at the Healthcare Commission, explained: “The breadth and depth of issues facing the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust are clear from their declaration against the Government’s core standards and we are keen to ensure that they are addressing matters in a timely manner.

“We felt that we needed to focus on what is happening now. The trust has been open and willing to work with us, which is an important stepping-stone. But there are a number of challenges ahead.

“We will ensure that the trust is taking action to bring about sustainable change, which will in turn restore confidence and bring benefits to the population of Cornwall.”

Sir Ian Carruthers OBE, chief executive of the South West Strategic Health Authority, said: 'I very much welcome today's announcement by the Healthcare Commission. The Strategic Health Authority and the Healthcare Commission are working closely with the trust to work to resolve their problems. With a new leadership team in place, the trust is in a good position to drive forward the improvements it knows are required. We will continue to work with them to ensure continued improvement.”

The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust is an acute trust serving the majority of Cornwall’s 400,000 population. The population figure more than doubles during the holiday periods.

Established in 1992, the trust comprises of the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance and St Michael’s Hospital in Hayle. The trust gained teaching hospital status in 2004.
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