Britain’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) published a report yesterday that has been critical of my local NHS Trust; the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.
Naturally, I am disappointed to read the contents of this report, however, I should also highlight that the Trust has been trying to improve against a backdrop of serious political meddling which occurred under the previous Labour government.
Last year, my colleague Steve Barclay revealed that through Freedom of Information requests, he had received emails detailing how Andy Burnham’s then junior Health minister – and current Labour parliamentary candidate Mike O’Brien – told the CQC: “anything you do is political”.
According to the emails, this led to the CQC resolving they should put out “largely positive” reports. The Mid Staffs public inquiry had already been told by Baroness Young that “we were under more pressure…when Andy Burnham became minister”. Former CQC head of media Roger Davidson had already said “the message that ‘we don’t want bad news’ infected the whole organisation”.
But what Steve produced appeared to be documentary evidence to support these statements. I discovered this last summer. As a result the CQC was restructured, which I welcomed. To that end, I am pleased that the CQC is now free from political interference and is at liberty to be frank and honest, hence yesterday’s report.
Many of my constituents feel that not enough was done during the years of the Labour goverment to expose things that had gone wrong in our local hospital trust, Morecambe Bay, particularly in light of the Grant Thornton report last year. There is a feeling that had the CQC looked more closely at what was going on at Morecambe Bay patient care would have been at a much higher standard.
The truth is when the Labour government approved the Trust for Foundation status in April 2010 it simply was not ready for it, meaning that the management team faced a significant challenge. Having said that, I regularly meet with Chief Executive Jackie Daniel and the Secretary of State for Health, and I do feel that the University Hospitals Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust is making progress.
A number of weaknesses highlighted by the CQC have since either been rectified, or a strategy is in place to address the specific issues.
An example of this is staffing levels on Ward 39. This was flagged in October 2013 by the CQC and during the visit in February 2014 the recruitment was in progress. When I visited in April 2014, staffing in the ward was at quota. Of course, the Trust is facing stricter scrutiny which was introduced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt under this government, but I of course welcome that. Patient safety must always come first.
My hope is that the Trust will continue to improve and that the CQC will continue to hold the Trust to account in the name of patient safety. I would rather have some uncomfortable reading than poor patient safety and the politicisation of the CQC as happened under the previous Labour government.