STRUCTURE: Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust has today announced its withdrawal from the government’s Mutuals in Health pathfinder project.
It is the second Norfolk trust to withdraw from the mutuals project in recent days. Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust also confirmed to HSJ that it was no longer involved with the initiative.
Norfolk and Suffolk was last week rated “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission, which recommended it be placed into special measures.
Last year the Department of Health announced nine “pathfinder” trusts, including the two Norfolk trusts, which were exploring models of staff ownership under the programme.
Trust chief executive Michael Scott said the board had reviewed its role as a pathfinder “following feedback from staff, and in light of its other priorities”.
In a statement, he said: “There has been a level of misunderstanding about the project and the aims of our trust in taking part. We can see that this has led to concern among our staff about a risk of ‘privatisation of the NHS’.
“We are clear that our trust’s priorities are improving the quality of our services and improving staff morale, by making the trust a better place to work.
“Anything that might create a distraction to these priorities is not for us at this time. As a result, the trust has decided to withdraw from the project.”
Unison representatives at the trust had previously voted their opposition to the trust getting “mutual status”.
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“Collectively, we believe we are all now on the same page in discontinuing our involvement in the project,” Mr Scott said.
“As a trust we know where we are and we know where we need to be, and we will be working with our staff, our commissioners and partners, including our union colleagues, to get [the trust] firmly back on track for the benefit of our service users and for the people who work for us.”
He said the trust was required to discuss its decision with the Cabinet Office, which leads the scheme, and with Monitor before it could make the announcement.
A spokeswoman for Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals FT said: “Our particular interest in the mutuals project was to learn from others about their experience of enhanced staff engagement and the potential for that to result in benefits for patients.
“Since then we have received further information about the project which has highlighted the opportunities that are already available to us as a foundation trust.
“In light of that, we are withdrawing from the mutuals project so that we can instead progress our own comprehensive staff engagement programme.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed that Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust has decided to withdraw from the programme which was set up to explore the potential of better staff engagement and mutualisation, especially when the evidence shows that mutuals in the health sector empowers staff and results in better care.”
She previously said the decision of Norwich and Norwich to withdraw “a shame but the programme will continue unaffected”.
“The chief executive of the King’s Fund, Chris Ham, argues the case for developing the Mutual concept and the remaining… pathfinders will continue to explore how they might improve staff engagement and patient care.”