• Sir Andrew Morris says “clinical leadership” key to successful acquisition of Heatherwood and Wexham Park Foundation Trust
  • Says NHS still has “too many organisations on the provider and commissioning side”
  • Frimley Health “not at the moment” looking at extending to a “hospital chain”

The NHS should do trust takeovers on a “bigger scale” when the conditions are right, the chief executive of Frimley Health Foundation Trust has said.

Speaking to HSJ as the CQC declared the turnaround of Wexham Park Hospital the “most impressive” example of improvement it has seen, Sir Andrew Morris said the NHS still had “too many organisations”.

Andrew Morris

Andrew Morris

Sir Andrew said ‘it’s about getting the doctors and nurses to have confidence to change things’

Wexham Park used to be rated “inadequate” by the CQC, and the organisation which previously managed it, Heatherwood and Wexham Park FT, was placed in special measures in May 2014.

In October 2014 Frimley Health acquired Heatherwood and Wexham Park, and today the CQC has published a report upgrading Wexham Park’s rating to “good”.

Sir Andrew told HSJ the turnaround was the result of better “leadership and culture”.

He said Frimley Health had taken the “values and behaviours” that were on the Frimley Park Hospital site and “modified them and used them” at Wexham Park. It targeted 150 leaders at the hospital to lift performance.

In the past, trust acquisitions and mergers have frequently failed to deliver promised improvements.

For example, Barts Health Trust, which was created by the merger of Barts and the London, Whips Cross and Newham University hospitals in 2012, was rated inadequate and placed in special measures in 2015.

Sir Andrew said the Heatherwood and Wexham Park acquisition had succeeded because of “clinical leadership”.

“It’s about getting the doctors and nurses to believe in themselves and have confidence to change things,” he said.

The acquisition was also helped by the fact that the takeover was “welcomed” by staff at the trust, he said.

He added: “People on the Wexham Park site have wanted a secure future. We were seen as the best bet.”

Sir Andrew said mergers were “an option” for spreading quality through the system but the conditions had to be right.

“If the circumstances are correct it’s a model that I think the NHS should do on a bigger scale because at the end of the day we’ve still got too many organisations on the provider and commissioning side of the NHS,” he said.

However, Frimley Health is “not at the moment” looking at the idea of setting up a more extensive “hospital chain”, as recommended by Sir David Dalton’s government backed review.

Sir Andrew said the trust’s priorities for Wexham Park were another ingredient in the improvement of the hospital.

He said: “We were very clear about the order we wanted to do things. Get the culture right, get the safety right, then the performance and staffing, and the money last.

“If we’d gone in with the money being the prime driver you wouldn’t have seen a similar result.”

Heatherwood and Wexham Park still has an underlying deficit of £30m, but Sir Andrew said Frimley Health would address this by making better use of estates, cracking down on agency fees and reducing length of patient stays.

CQC hails merger trust for ‘most impressive’ ever transformation