North Cumbria University Hospitals has “lost confidence” in the private finance initiative contractor that manages facilities on its main site after a probe uncovered “major issues” with the way its operating theatres, water systems and gas pipelines were being maintained.
The findings of the trust’s investigation of facilities on its Cumberland Infirmary site came as the facilities management company, Health Management Carlisle, advised the trust that it planned to increase its charges on the contract by £1m next year.
North Cumbria, which is predicting a deficit of £23m for 2013-14, branded the planned price rise “entirely inappropriate” given its concerns about HMC’s current services.
Trust board papers reveal that North Cumbria has warned HMC that the company is “open to corporate manslaughter and fraud risks in relation to [bacteria such as] legionella, pseudomonas, etc.”
Steven Bannister, interim estates and facilities director at North Cumbria, told HSJ: “Our trust board has lost confidence in the maintenance and estates services provided to the Cumberland Infirmary through Health Management Carlisle under our PFI contract.
“The trust engaged its own expert team of specialists to look at compliance issues on the [Cumberland Infirmary] site, and this exercise uncovered major issues and a great many concerns relating to theatre maintenance, water systems, medical gas pipeline services and electrical resilience.”
He added: “Health Management Carlisle has also market tested the service they provide and has informed us that they plan to charge an extra £1m on the contract next year, which is entirely inappropriate given the concerns that we have currently as we won’t see an increase in service provision or the standards of that service.”
In response to the trust’s concerns, HMC is carrying out its own independent review of the services provided to the Cumberland Infirmary. Mr Bannister said the trust board was expecting to receive the report of this review “as a matter of urgency”.
North Cumbria was the second NHS trust to sign up for a PFI deal, in 1997. Its initial value was £66.7m, over a term of 30 years. The trust recently received £6.3m from the Department of Health to help towards its PFI budgeted payment of £10.4m for the year. According to Treasury figures the trust has £375.5m to pay off by 2029-30.
North Cumbria is currently in “special measures”, following its investigation under Sir Bruce Keogh’s review of trusts with persistently high mortality rates.
The trust commissioned its review of the Cumberland Infirmary estate and facilities as part of its response to the Keogh review’s recommendations.
Minutes from the trust’s December board meeting state that, during a discussion on North Cumbria’s work to get out of special measures, Mr Bannister had explained that “a meeting had recently been held with HMC colleagues… where the trust had raised concerns as to how the estate was being run and that they were open to corporate manslaughter and fraud risks in relation to legionella, pseudomonas etc.”
The minutes continue: “Mr Bannister explained that the trust needed to be more proactive with managing the contract with the ‘docile’ company. [Trust chief executive Ann] Farrar reported that she had explained to HMC that the board had lost confidence in them and that new standards had to be delivered.”
HMC is a joint venture between facilities management company Interserve and engineers AMEC. A spokesman for Interserve said: “…we are committed to providing the highest levels of service and quality to our client and remain in dialogue with the trust to ensure we work towards that shared goal.”