Weekly updates and essential insight into the NHS in the South West, by Will Hazell

Katrina Percy stays…

Last week Tim Smart announced the outcome of his deliberations on Southern Health Foundation Trust – a verdict which will have long term consequences for the future of the trust as well as short term implications for its embattled leadership.

Mr Smart, the former chief executive of King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust, was parachuted into Southern Health by NHS Improvement in April.

Southern Health had been struggling to respond to last year’s Mazars report, which highlighted failures at the trust to investigate and learn from patient deaths. NHS Improvement concluded the board was incapable of getting a handle on the issue on its own, so Mr Smart was sent in.

His quick turnaround review of Southern Health was published last week.

The good news for trust chief executive, Katrina Percy, is that she will be staying in her post. Ms Percy has faced calls to resign from the families of some of the trust’s service users, as well as the former care minister, Norman Lamb.

Mr Smart concluded that while the trust’s board “should have acted in a more united way”, there was “no evidence of negligence or incompetence by any individual board member”.

While Ms Percy will be staying on, he said she had “been too operationally focused”, and that her focus would shift “to delivery of the future strategy of the trust”.

Mr Smart’s comment that Ms Percy was “too operationally focused” strikes me as a little odd.

Earlier this year a source in the local health economy opined to me that one of the reasons Southern Health had got into such difficulty was precisely because it spent too much time obsessing about strategy (such as its two vanguard projects) and not enough time on getting the operational nitty gritty right.

As my editor commented, a chief executive relinquishing control of operations is a strange state of affairs.

…But learning disability services go

Mr Smart did not clear out the Southern Health’s board, but his review has recommended a shakeup of its services and structure.

He concluded that the trust was operating “across too broad a spectrum of clinical services and too wide a geography”, and would therefore offload its learning disability services in Oxfordshire to Oxford Health Foundation Trust.

A steering group will be established to “further develop and accelerate” implementation of the trust’s strategy. Its first task will be to launch a review of the way services are organised, which will “result in the future form of Southern Health being changed”.

We know quality can dip during organisational turmoil, so it will be critical Southern Health and partners properly manage this risk over the next few years as they restructure.

Second Bristol heart review

Last week also saw the publication of the independent review of children’s cardiac services in Bristol.

The good news is that it found “no evidence” of a repeat of the terrible failures identified in the public inquiry of 1998-2001.

According to the latest review, outcomes of care at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children were “broadly comparable with those of other centres”.

But that doesn’t mean the NHS can breathe a sigh of relief and move on.

The review found evidence that “on a number of occasions, the care was less good and parents were let down”, along with instances of “poor communication” with families.

We should reflect on the words of Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director: “Quality is not just about survival, it is about many other things.

“These families’ experiences tell a very powerful story not just for Bristol but for the rest of the NHS in terms of compassion and how we treat people in their darkest moments.”

The service now awaits NHS England’s proposals, expected in coming days, on how this specialist service should be centralised.

Deep South

Deep South is HSJ’s email briefing on the NHS in the South West of England.

It takes an in-depth weekly look at a region which is one of the NHS’s most innovative, but also one of its most turbulent. The patch includes the cities of Bristol and Bath, through Wessex and Dorset, and all the way down the peninsular to Lizard Point.

Please get in touch with any suggestions about what you’d like to see covered and any story tips: will.hazell@emap.com