The leader of a Sussex health trust outlined what the organisation’s next steps will be after coming out of special measures earlier this month.
At a meeting of the East Sussex County Council Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday (June 28), councillors heard from chief executive Adrian Bull on what comes next for the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust following the publication of its latest CQC report.
The report highlighted several significant improvements and saw CQC inspectors recommend the trust, which runs Eastbourne’s District General Hospital and Conquest Hospital in Hastings, be taken out of special measures.
While the overall rating of the trust remains as ‘requires improvement’, Dr Bull said he was ‘absolutely confident’ other areas would also have been rated as ‘good’ or higher had they been re-examined by the CQC and formed part of the latest inspection.
Dr Bull said: “This represents, in my view, a very significant accolade to people right across the organisation.
“People in a number of areas have said to me they were disappointed they were not inspected. They were ready to show work they were doing.”
He added that the trust has asked the CQC to come back ‘as soon as possible’ to re-examine services he believes have now improved.
While the trust has been taken out of special measures for quality of its service, it remains in financial special measures.
During the meeting, Sarah Osborne, Liberal Democrat councillor for Ouse Valley West and Downs, asked Dr Bull when the trust is expected to come out of financial special measures and how it can do so without sacrificing quality.
Dr Bull said: “A well-run organisation, from a quality and organisational perspective, is a financially better organisation than one that isn’t. Poor quality care costs money.
“The approach we’re taking to addressing the financial position is one that is resolutely focused on doing that in a sensible way, over a period of time which is sustainable.”
Dr Bull also said coming out of financial special measures was less ‘straightforward’ than coming out of quality special measures and would depend on the judgement of the NHS Improvement team.
He said much work remained to be done – including an £18m savings programme to take place this year – but said it was possible the trust could be out of financial special measures in 12 months’ time at the earliest.
Concerns were raised about some of the savings plans being looked at by the trust. Conservative county councillor for Northern Rother Angharad Davies said: “It seems as you are going to reduce the two stroke wards down to one. When the stroke services were same-sited it was well recognised that number of beds was needed.
“Can you explain to me how you could possibly put that idea forward?”
Dr Bull replied that the changes were proposed as part of a ‘extensive remodelling’ of beds at the trust which will see the total number of trust beds reduced during the summer months.
He said: “The beds across both wards that we currently designate to stroke, have not all been taken up by stroke patients.
“The changes we are bringing in are part of quite an extensive remodeling of beds right across the trust.
“We have around 750 beds and we are reducing the number, across both sites, by something around 75 to 85 in the summer with provision to open up those beds again in winter.”
Dr Bull said the changes would see more medical beds and fewer surgical beds in response to demand during the winter months. He added that he did not see the changes as a ‘down-scaling’ of the stroke service.
Questions were also raised by Independent Green councillor Susan Murray, who sits on the committee as a representative of Lewes District Council, about staffing plans and what steps the trust was taking to safeguard staff from bullying and harassment.
Cllr Murray said: “I wonder if the fact your overall rating is still ‘requires improvement’ is a problem in terms of recruiting extra staff and if there are other areas outside the directly medical ones where there is a continuing problem with recruiting staff.”
Dr Bull said that while the trust had faced difficulties in the immediate aftermath of entering special measures, the ‘requires improvement’ rating was not an uncommon one and the trust was beginning to see improvements in its recruitment.
He said: “However there is still a problem of a national shortage of people in some roles.”
Following the meeting, chairman of HOSC, Colin Belsey said: “I would like to commend the trust on their hard work to make the necessary improvements. While I acknowledge there is still some way to go, this is a big step in the right direction towards a ‘good’ rating.
“We will continue to work closely with the trust and monitor the progress made to ensure that East Sussex residents have access to the best possible care.”