Published: 20/12/2001, Volume III, No.5786 Page 8 9

The Commission for Health Improvement's report into Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals trust has endorsed chief executive David Highton's assertion last month that the trust had 'turned the corner' after high-profile problems with its accident and emergency and cardiac services.

After a two-week visit from the Modernisation Agency following the trust's no-star rating, Mr Highton told HSJ that recent changes were taking effect.

However, the clinical governance review - fast-tracked after last year's inquiry report into the heart unit - found difficulties persisted in key areas, including the trust's whistle-blowing policy. And there are still long trolley waits in A&E, a high rate of cancelled operations and 'evidence of poor communication and co-operation between some medical staff '.

But CHI also commended the trust's senior management team, many of whom have taken up post within the past 18 months, saying they 'were committed to improving the quality of patient care', and 'staff felt that they were beginning to be listened to'. Patients contacted by the commission praised the quality of care they received.

CHI's greatest concern was whistleblowing: 'Recommendation 27 of the external review into cardiac services required that a 'whistleblowing policy must be introduced as a matter of urgency'. Whilst CHI acknowledge a policy has been introduced, part of it does not follow good practice and staff generally remain unaware of its existence.'

Mr Highton said the 'message was basically one of communication' and a booklet of information about the policy had been included in pay packets, but more would need to be done.

'It is a balanced report and the areas flagged up as needing further work are areas We are aware of, ' he said.Over the past eight weeks, more than 500 staff have participated in focus groups with an external facilitator to provide input into the trust's strategic plan. Though CHI pointed out that harassment had been identified as a concern for 18 per cent of staff, the focus groups had not revealed harassment to be a major issue, Mr Highton said.

'That doesn't mean that in our staff survey in January there will not be people who see harassment as a problem. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to work out that some parts of the trust are quite stressful to work in.'