Health minister Mike O’Brien has carried out his threat to “name and shame” trusts that cut services and blame the economy - using a parliamentary debate to highlight the case of a trust planning 200 bed cuts.
Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust will now carry out more stakeholder engagement on its plans, having earlier declared that it would start its cuts from this April. It said it had to make savings of between £27m and £30m “because of the national economic position which is seeing reductions in public sector spending”.
It is a product of a lack of imagination by managers and managers need to be very careful when they go down that route
Mr O’Brien said blaming the economic situation for the cuts was “nonsense”.
“Thankfully, they have now decided that that sort of slash-and-burn announcement is unnecessary and needs to be looked at with care,” he said.
“It is a product of a lack of imagination by managers and managers need to be very careful when they go down that route.”
Later he told Channel 4 news: “I have written to the chief executive expressing some concern about the approach that has been adopted… I’m not very happy with what is happening in Gloucestershire.”
The trust’s apparent unilateral announcement that 200 beds would go - 95 of them starting from 1 April - outraged councillors and MPs, leading to an extraordinary meeting of Gloucestershire’s scrutiny committee.
Committee chair Andrew Gravells said the engagement of the public and stakeholders had been “abysmal” and that trust chief executive Dr Frank Harsent had apologised to the committee for the “poor communication”.
The trust had informed staff of the proposals and had mentioned some bed losses to Gloucestershire’s local involvement network a week before announcing the cuts in a press release. But LINk chairman and trust governor Barbara Marshall said no timing had been mentioned for the losses. LINk members were concerned about the services that would be in place to support patients and their carers who were looked after in the community, rather than hospital, she said.
The committee decided to inform Monitor and NHS Gloucestershire that it was not satisfied that adequate consultation had taken place and that it regarded the loss of 18 per cent of the trust’s beds as “substantial variation”.
The trust said it had agreed to carry out a further programme of engagement over the detailed implementation plan but was pleased the committee had supported some of the proposals, which would improve the environment for patients.
Monitor confirmed the trust was already being closely monitored as it was in breach of its terms of authorisation, having breached accident and emergency targets.
Managers in Partnership chief executive Jon Restell warned that Gloucestershire would be the first of many organisations which would look at cutting bed numbers, as care shifted away from acute settings.
He said politicians should not “cry foul and blame managers”.
“If you want people to be treated outside hospital, is it acceptable that bed closures are then non-negotiable? If politicians support these policies, do they then support managers and organisations to do this?’
But he added that working in partnership with other NHS organisations was important. “Gloucestershire may have a message for the rest of us in that it is all very well making brave decisions but you have to prepare the ground and talk to your stakeholders,” he said.