• Southern Health Foundation Trust could be broken up or another inquiry ordered
  • Health secretary was due to consider the options for the trust’s future
  • Future of Southern Health’s leadership unclear

The trust at the centre of a care quality row could be broken up, HSJ understands. This is despite regulators acknowledging it was too early to tell if improvements had been made.

Southern Health Foundation Trust has faced continued criticism over the quality of the care it provided Connor Sparrowhawk, who died in its charge in 2013, and the quality of its incident investigations. Last month the trust received a “requires improvement” rating from the Care Quality Commission, with the report citing “longstanding risks to patients”.

Jeremy Hunt 2014

Jeremy Hunt 2014 - REX-01

Jeremy Hunt was due to consider whether to split the trust into separate organisations

HSJ understands that health secretary Jeremy Hunt was due to be presented with options for further action on Southern Health over the past weekend, following meetings between NHS Improvement and the trust’s leadership. These included splitting the trust into separate organisations, or alternatively ordering another inquiry into the care it provides. 

The future of the trust’s leadership is unclear.

Southern Health provides mental health services, adult social care, community care services and services for people with learning disabilities – and these could be divided between separate providers if the trust is broken up.

HSJ understands a meeting between NHS Improvement and the £346m turnover trust took place a fortnight ago and Mr Hunt was due to be presented with the two options over the weekend.

One senior figure told HSJ that another period of uncertainty for staff could damage patient care.

Correspondence between Monitor and the CQC released under the Freedom of Information Act last Friday included a letter from chief inspector of hospitals Sir Mike Richards in December, which said: “We agreed that evidence that patients are dying at [a] younger age with learning disabilities in Southern Health was ‘unproven’.” He added that a “focused re-inspection of Southern Health to assess progress on their reporting, investigation and learning from unexpected deaths” would be carried out.

The inspection report published in April gave the trust “requires improvement” ratings in the safe, effective and well led domains, with “good” ratings for caring and responsive.

The summary said the trust had introduced a new system for reporting and investigating deaths but that the “quality and detail in the reports varied considerably”.

It added: “Whilst it was too early to gauge the impact of the new process introduced by the trust on 1 December 2015, we concluded that it had the potential to monitor serious incidents and deaths more robustly and to identify when further investigation was required. We recognised that the process was at an early stage of implementation and was not fully embedded.”

The summary said: “We found the trust had a clear vision, had developed a clear set of goals and values that most staff knew about and understood and these were gradually being embedded throughout the trust.

“There was evidence of good leadership and commitment from the board, the executive team and senior managers. We heard of many new initiatives and the trust was continually looking for ways to improve. However, it was clear that time was needed to fully realise the scale and complexity of the changes and embed these across the trust.”

Relating specifically to the death of Connor Sparrowhawk in 2013, the report said: “The trust had reconfigured its learning disability services in Oxfordshire, closed inpatient services at Slade House and made several changes to improve services following an external review into a tragic death at Slade House. A special committee of the board was in place to oversee the turnaround of the services.

“However, staff, patients and carers still had concerns about ongoing issues as they felt the trust had not been as open and honest as it could have been. It was clear this was impacting significantly on their welfare. The uncertainty about whether the trust would continue to deliver services in the future was affecting staff morale.”

In a statement released alongside the report Paul Lelliott, CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals and lead for mental health, said “We found longstanding risks to patients, arising from the physical environment, that had not been dealt with effectively. The trust’s internal governance arrangements to learn from serious incidents or investigations were not good enough, meaning that opportunities to minimise further risks to patients were lost.”

Southern Health was created from the merger of Hampshire Partnership Foundation Trust and Hampshire Community Health Care in 2011. In November 2012 it took over the Ridgway Partnership, which provided services in Oxfordshire and where Mr Sparrowhawk died in 2013.

Since Mr Sparrowhawk’s death a public campaign has called for the removal of the trust’s chief executive Katrina Percy.

Exclusive: Southern Health could be split up, sources say