• Special measures trust looks to outsource ophthalmology work after CQC concerns
  • Inspectors criticised “lack of management oversight of recurrent backlogs” at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole
  • Trust says three-year contract is “short term solution” as it works to increase capacity

A trust in special measures is outsourcing ophthalmology work to help clear a backlog of almost 900 patients after regulators said they were at risk of harm or suboptimal care.

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Foundation Trust is procuring a three-year contract worth £1.5m-£2.5m for ophthalmology work at hospitals in Scunthorpe, Goole and Grimsby, after the Care Quality Commission told it to address referral to treatment waiting times.

eye surgery

eye surgery

The trust has 870 patients waiting more than 18 weeks to be seen

The trust returned to special measures last month after being rated inadequate by the CQC.

Karen Dunderdale, deputy chief executive and director of operations, told HSJ patients on the existing waiting list would be seen by the trust and new referrals would be outsourced to the new provider.

She said: “Ensuring our patients are seen in a timely manner is of paramount importance, which is why we are looking at outsourcing some of our ophthalmology work.

“This is a short term solution while we mobilise our longer term strategy to increase our capacity. However, it takes time to purchase new equipment, recruit and train staff, and increase the number of clinic and theatre sessions we can provide.

“We will continue to see all of those patients currently on our lists and only new referrals will be outsourced until we can increase our capacity. Once this has been achieved, we will transfer those patients back to our care.”

The trust has 870 patients waiting longer than 18 weeks to be seen. The contract notice said: “The trust requires support to ensure compliance with the requirements of the 18 weeks referral to treatment process.”

The CQC reported the trust had performed below the national RTT target since June. In October, 73.7 per cent of patients were treated within 18 weeks – compared to 75.5 per cent across England.

Highlighting the backlog of ophthalmology outpatients and a cluster of serious incidents in maternity services, the CQC said: “We remained concerned that risks were not always identified or had robust controls in place, we saw evidence that this had resulted in harm or suboptimal care of patients.”

Despite noting improvements in outpatient services, inspectors said there “remained a lack of management oversight of the recurrent backlogs”.

The trust receives around 10,500 ophthalmology referrals a year and is also performing below the national average for the specialty – treating 72.6 per cent of patients within 18 weeks as of October, compared to 78.7 per cent nationally.

Richard Sunley is now interim chief executive at the trust after Karen Jackson was seconded to NHS Improvement for six months to advise on emergency care before the inspection report was published.

The trust forecast a year-end deficit of £31m for 2016-17 and was placed in financial special measures five weeks before the publication of the CQC report. It has appointed an interim finance director after Marcus Hassall took “a period of leave”, which the trust said was not related to the financial deterioration or being put in special measures.