• Kent Community Health Foundation Trust’s leadership team praised
  • Only major NHS body in Kent to be rated “outstanding”
  • But chief executive insists more can be done

A community trust has been rated “outstanding” by the Care Quality Commission.

Kent Community Health Foundation Trust was upgraded from a “good” rating after inspectors visited its community dental, end of life care, urgent care and sexual health services. It is the only major NHS service in Kent and Medway to have been rated as “outstanding”.

The trust operates from numerous sites across the county, employs 5,000 staff and provides some services in Medway, East Sussex and north east London, as well as Kent. It was rated “outstanding” for effective, caring and well-led, and “good” for safe and responsive.

In particular, the CQC described the trust’s leaders as having an “inspiring shared purpose” and noted they “strived to deliver and motivate staff to succeed” with a “significant cultural shift to dissolve bureaucracy, improve accountability, value and empower all staff”.

A culture which valued openness and put patients at the centre was embedded from “the floor to the board,” the report said. It added: “There was a genuinely open culture in which all safety concerns raised by staff and patients… are highly valued as integral to learning and improvement.”

However, chief executive Paul Bentley told HSJ the trust was not perfect and wanted to continue improving its culture. “As an executive team we need to establish the culture and then get out of the way and let it work,” he said. He stressed the importance of listening to patients and the quality of interactions between staff and patients.

The trust has around 400 vacancies but the report commented on how it developed its own staff through talent management. For example, in the urgent care services, junior staff were being offered the chance to become emergency nurse practitioners. A newly-established academy offered staff the opportunity to do a foundation or full nursing degree while still being paid by the trust.

The sexual health service – which covers both Kent and Medway – had an innovative approach to patients with learning disabilities with longer appointments allocated to them to allow their specific needs to be addressed. The service also provided outreach to patients who can be hard to engage, such as those who had sex in public places and prison inmates. Chief nurse Mercia Spare said these patients could have high-risk behaviour and needed to be engaged with in a non-judgemental way.

CQC’s deputy chief inspector of hospitals Nigel Acheson said: “The trust’s determination to develop a patient centred culture has improved services. This has ensured that the overall rating has moved to outstanding.

“Staff spoke positively about the patient journey and the striving for continual improvement. This was especially clear in urgent care and sexual health which were both rated as outstanding. Community dental services also improved and are now rated as good. Staff worked as a team in a coordinated way for the patients’ best interests.

“The hard work makes a real difference to the lives of people using the services. Everyone who has played a part in this should be proud of this great achievement.”