Top performing NHS managers are to be drafted in to turn around failing hospitals in a move that health secretary Jeremy Hunt said would lead to “real change”.
The 11 hospitals put in special measures in the wake of the scandal over standards at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and subsequent Keogh Review will be partnered with the best NHS trusts and managers in a scheme that echoes the “super-heads” programme to turn around failing schools.
The high performing hospitals will enter into contracts with the NHS Trust Development Authority or regulator Monitor to support the special measures hospitals. The mentor hospitals will be paid for the work, which will help back-fill management posts according to Mr Hunt, and will have access to a special incentive fund.
The health secretary said the plans signalled a change from the past when management consultants would be paid to write reports on failing hospitals. The new method would result in practical changes, he said.
One example is George Elliott Hospital in Nuneaton, which has been placed in special measures and is in “desperate need” of IT improvements. That hospital has been partnered with University Hospitals Birmingham, which Mr Hunt said has one of the best IT systems in the country.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are very aware that there are risks, but what’s the alternative?
“I think in a situation like this we have a handful of really inspirational leaders and these people are anxious to help us turn around these failing hospitals, they want to play their part.
“I think what we have learnt from the education system where we have had a similar programme in place for decades now… We have learnt that if you get these things right you can actually use the experience, the inspiration, the dynamism, the leadership in good institutions to learn what needs to be done in the weaker ones.
“The alternative in the past has been that you pay a management consultancy a huge amount of money, they come up with a report. The problem with that is it’s very easy to say what the problem is, that’s never the challenge when you’ve got hospitals in difficulty.
“The problem is actually making the practical changes on the ground and for that partnering up with another hospital that has done all these changes, that knows what needs to happen, that’s the way I think we’ll get real change.”
Mr Hunt said the scheme was “about leadership, it’s about culture, it’s about training, it’s about a number of other things as well”.
He added: “To get that right you need to have the right people leading these hospitals and you need to give everyone, all the nurses and doctors on the frontline, confidence that the best people in the business are helping to turn this hospital around.”
Professor Chris Ham, chief executive of health service think-tank the King’s Fund, said the key question is how the better-performing hospitals are affected when they take over a struggling hospital.
He warned that if the scheme is not implemented correctly, it could drag overall standards down.
He told Today: “I have some experience sitting on the board of a foundation trust hospital in Birmingham which took over a struggling hospital in that city and the effect was to drag down its performance.
“In principle, if we can get this right it will level up standards but actually if we get it wrong it may level down.
“That’s an outcome nobody wants to see.”
Dame Julie Moore, chief executive of University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust, said bringing smaller “isolated” district hospitals into larger regional hospital groups is the way forward.
The announcement came as the Department of Health revealed its new NHS Leadership Programme which aims to transform the top tier of health service managers and staff into star performers.
Health bosses want three-quarters of recruits to be current NHS staff and will appeal to senior doctors, nurses, managers and high-fliers to apply for the programme.
The remaining quarter will be brought in from industry.
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: “This plan contains little for the struggling NHS front line.
“Reports revealed that these hospitals have deteriorated and lost staff under David Cameron - ministers shouldn’t try to pass the buck.
“The hospitals need enough staff on the ground to provide staff care. When almost half of all hospital wards are failing to meet safe staffing levels, the Government must show how it will boost numbers.
“This is further proof you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.”
The full list of 11 NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts, alongside their partnering organisation is as follows:
|NHS Trust/Foundation Trust in special measures||Partnering organisation|
|North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust||Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust|
|United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust||Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust|
|East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust||Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust|
|George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust||University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust|
|Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust||Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust|
|Tameside Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust||University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust|
|Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust||Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust|
|Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust||University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust|
|Medway NHS Foundation Trust||Partner to be confirmed|
|Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust||Partner to be confirmed|
|Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust||(specifically on complaints) Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust|