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Most days of the week you will be able to find that an NHS organisation is in court over something. Invariably there will be a clinical negligence claim, often there will be involvement in a coroner’s court or employment tribunal and sometimes in the commercial courts over a procurement matter.

Rarely does the NHS fetch up in the Admiralty Court. But that is where South West Ambulance Service Foundation Trust has found itself.

The trust is responsible for not just the South West peninsula but also the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago off The Lizard. To serve these islands, and transport patients and supplies, the trust naturally uses a boat.

It was one of the vessels that it has commonly chartered for this purpose that has caused it some legal grief. The Blue Hunter in 2018, while under the control and responsibility of the trust, was grounded on rocks, causing damage to the hull and other parts of the boat, including its propellers and rudders.

The trust does not contest that it is responsible for the damage and owes the owner of the vessel damages. The question is over exactly how much. The owner, Blue Hunter Boating, says it is due £1.2m; the trust disputes this.

Mind the gap

NHS England’s national mental health director has warned of the impact a 20 per cent gap in nurses could have on a nationwide push to tackle closed cultures following a series of abuse scandals.

In an interview with HSJ, Claire Murdoch stressed that stability in staffing is “vital to developing safe and therapeutic care”, a key task for all services since high-profile documentaries exposed abuse and poor care at mental health units last autumn. Now, Ms Murdoch has admitted she is “concerned” that one in five mental health nurse vacancies are going unfilled and fears the impact this will have on improving safety and culture. 

She said: “The bit that absolutely we need to acknowledge is there are some significant workforce and staffing challenges… Stability in staffing [enables] patients [to] have continuity of care, and staff can build trust which is fundamental to managing risk.” 

Mental health nursing vacancies represent a third of all nursing shortages nationally. Ms Murdoch also discussed pressures on beds, her future plans for mental health in the next stage of the NHS long-term plan, and revealed transparency of waiting times could finally be coming for those waiting longest for services in the community.

Also on today

An ICB in the East of England has broken away from the more recent norm of alternative provider medical services contracts for GP services, as it plans to award a general medical services contract to a local primary care network. And in The Ward Round, Nick Kituno says the NHS’s latest report into discrimination against disabled staff shows signs of improvement, but that there also remain signs of problems.