PERFORMANCE: A group of almost 20 patients and relatives are planning to launch legal action against a struggling West Midlands trust, claiming their treatment was a breach of the Human Rights Act.

Worcester Acute Hospitals Trust, which is about to begin a strategic review of the configuration of services across its three sites, hit the national headlines in the summer after Care Quality Commission inspectors found doctors were prescribing water to patients to make sure they stayed hydrated.

Lawyers Leigh Day & Co are acting on behalf of 17 families and considering the cases of six more. The firm also led a group action against Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust which saw £1.2m paid out to 119 patients earlier this month.

Solicitor Emma Jones told HSJ the majority of the cases related to older patients. She said many of the cases were similar to those in Mid Staffordshire, involving issues such as buzzers not being answered, food left out of reach and patients left to lie in their own urine and excrement.

Ms Jones said: “[The clients] want answers and they want an apology and that’s what we are hoping to get for them. If not we would have to sit down and see that they wanted to do next.”

Director of nursing and midwifery Helen Blanchard said the trust was now compliant with the CQC’s standards on dignity and nutrition but it encouraged and addressed “real-time” patient feedback.

Concerns about care quality led to the trust having its foundation trust application put on hold in 2009 by then health minister Mike O’Brien.

Monitor recently refused the trust’s request for a second extension to its FT application, which was made in light of a number of changes to the executive team, including the retirement of chief executive Jon Rostill in July.

This means the tripartite formal agreement signed by all parties on 30 September this year will have to be replaced.

The tender for the service review, which is being commissioned jointly by the trust and NHS Worcestershire, seeks a “shared strategic vision” for services at the trust.

A consultant is due to be appointed and begin work by 21 January. The results will be used to inform the £320m turnover trust’s long term financial model and integrated business plan.

Finance director Chris Tidman warned a recent board meeting the trust was facing continuous cash flow problems, in part due to repayments on a £25m Department of Health loan, and would need to recapitalise in future.

NHS Worcestershire has also withheld £400,000 of payment due to ongoing poor performance against the four hour accident and emergency targets.

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