Top hospitals to act as mentors
Thursday 19th September 2013, 2:50AM BST.
T op performing NHS managers are to be drafted in to turn around failing hospitals in a move that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said would lead to “real change”.
The 11 hospitals put in special measures in the wake of the scandal over standards at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and subsequent Keogh Review will be partnered with the best NHS trusts and managers in a scheme that echoes the “super-heads” programme to turn around failing schools.
The high performing hospitals will enter into contracts with the NHS Trust Development Authority or regulator Monitor to support the special measures hospitals. The mentor hospitals will be paid for the work, which will help back-fill management posts according to Mr Hunt, and will have access to a special incentive fund.
The Health Secretary said the plans signalled a change from the past when management consultants would be paid to write reports on failing hospitals. The new method would result in practical changes, he said.
One example is George Elliott Hospital in Nuneaton, which has been placed in special measures and is in “desperate need” of IT improvements. That hospital has been partnered with University Hospitals Birmingham, which Mr Hunt said has one of the best IT systems in the country.
He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “We are very aware that there are risks, but what’s the alternative?
“I think in a situation like this we have a handful of really inspirational leaders and these people are anxious to help us turn around these failing hospitals, they want to play their part.
“I think what we have learnt from the education system where we have had a similar programme in place for decades now… We have learnt that if you get these things right you can actually use the experience, the inspiration, the dynamism, the leadership in good institutions to learn what needs to be done in the weaker ones.
“The alternative in the past has been that you pay a management consultancy a huge amount of money, they come up with a report. The problem with that is it’s very easy to say what the problem is, that’s never the challenge when you’ve got hospitals in difficulty.
“The problem is actually making the practical changes on the ground and for that partnering up with another hospital that has done all these changes, that knows what needs to happen, that’s the way I think we’ll get real change.”
Mr Hunt said the scheme was “about leadership, it’s about culture, it’s about training, it’s about a number of other things as well”.
He added: “To get that right you need to have the right people leading these hospitals and you need to give everyone, all the nurses and doctors on the frontline, confidence that the best people in the business are helping to turn this hospital around.”
Professor Chris Ham, chief executive of health service think-tank the King’s Fund, said the key question is how the bette r- performing hospitals are affected when they take over a struggling hospital.
He warned that if the scheme is not implemented correctly, it could drag overall standards down.
He told Today: “I have some experience sitting on the board of a foundation trust hospital in Birmingham which took over a struggling hospital in that city and the effect was to drag down its performance.
“In principle, if we can get this right it will level up standards but actually if we get it wrong it may level down.
“That’s an outcome nobody wants to see.”
Dame Julie Moore, chief executive of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said bringing smaller “isolated” district hospitals into larger regional hospital groups is the way forward.
Dame Julie, who will act as a mentor under the new plans, said : “The kind of issues we’ve been discussing with some of the hospitals involve some of their staff coming and spending time with some of our staff and learning how we do it.
“But one of the problems I think we face is that the small isolated district general hospital, invented in previous centuries, is probably a dying breed and finding it increasingly difficult to cope.
“It hasn’t got the size, the infrastructure and the resources to have the kind of infrastructure you need to underpin model clinical practice, so for example informatics and IT, how to use information well to drive up quality of care, which are all things that we do I think quite well, so we’ll be sharing out expertise in that.”
She went on: “I think you might be right that being isolated and separated from being refreshed and research and development and academic centres might be a thing that we actually find out is a cause of some of the problems.
“I actually think that having hospitals connected in hospital groups is probably the way of the future. It’s a model that has worked elsewhere very well in the world.”
The announcement came as the Department of Health revealed its new NHS Leadership Programme which aims to transform the top tier of health service managers and staff into star performers.
Health bosses want three-quarters of recruits to be current NHS staff and will appeal to senior doctors, nurses, managers and high-fliers to apply for the programme.
The remaining quarter will be brought in from industry.
The 10-month programme, run by the NHS Leadership Academy, will start in the spring.
It is thought £10 million a year will be spent on the programme but there is no course head count yet.
Eight weeks of the course will be held at a leading business school, with discussions going on with UK business schools and Harvard in the US, insiders said.
The programme includes a six-month posting to a top-performing NHS Trust, with the recruits in a job and receiving a salary.
A one-month placement with a top firm is also included – and discussions are going on with firms such as BT, Microsoft and FirstGroup.
After completing the course, participants must stay with the NHS for two years – or pay back fees if they leave early.
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: “This plan contains little for the struggling NHS front line.
“Reports revealed that these hospitals have deteriorated and lost staff under David Cameron – ministers shouldn’t try to pass the buck.
“The hospitals need enough staff on the ground to provide staff care. When almost half of all hospital wards are failing to meet safe staffing levels, the Government must show how it will boost numbers.
“This is further proof you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.”