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'Distrust' of United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust over Grantham A&E, says its chief executive

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United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) has been “distrusted” over Grantham A&E and its future needs to be revealed this year, says the trust’s chief executive.

The emergency department was controversially closed overnight by the trust back in August 2016 on a “temporary basis”.

But the unit has not been reverted back to 24/7 opening hours since.

Grantham Hospital (22471554)
Grantham Hospital (22471554)

Andrew Morgan, chief executive of ULHT, said there is “considerable anger” over the issue and that he wants to go out to public consultation on the future of the A&E this year.

“I am keen that during 2020 we do have that consultation,” he said.

“I don’t want this topic festering forever. I think that Grantham Hospital has a fantastic future.

“It’s not just about the A&E, but I know that is the focal point for all of people's comments.”

Health bosses suggested in March last year that the department could become an urgent treatment centre. But campaigners said the unit should be reopened 24/7 and have walk-in access.

The uncertainty led South Kesteven District Council to call on hospital officials to go out to consultation on the issue.

Meanwhile, a motion passed by Lincolnshire County Council will see the authority’s leader, Councillor Martin Hill, write to health bosses to call for the A&E to be reopened 24/7.

Coun Hill said it was “beyond belief” that the county council was still discussing the issue three years on.

Mr Morgan said he wants to see the acute services review, which will include plans for Grantham, go out to consultation this year.

The review, which is being led by Lincolnshire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, will look at changes to services across hospitals across the county. Officials at the STP said last month that no public consultation will take place until capital funding is secured for the shake-up plans. A bid for further funding is expected to be lodged to government this Spring.

It was revealed last year that proposals for hospitals in the region would cost around £450 million over the next decade, with “suggested changes” in the acute services review costing £52 million alone.

No date has been set for the public consultation of the review.

Meanwhile, Mr Morgan has admitted the trust “cannot carry on” like it is and needs to improve drastically over the next five years.

He said he wants to see the trust be “outstanding” and has tabled an improvement plan.

ULHT currently finds itself in both quality and financial special measures with a forecast end of year deficit of £70 million.

Mr Morgan, who recently agreed to stay on as CEO until 2022, said the county’s hospitals cannot go on as they are and they can improve.

“I believe this trust can get to be an outstanding trust by 2025 at the latest,” he said.

Hospital bosses agreed an integrated improvement plan for the next five years, which aims to make the organisation an “outstanding” trust.

But, Mr Morgan said the scale of improvement will be a “journey” for the county’s hospitals.

Financial and quality woes

While the trust is on target to reach its deficit plan agreed with regulator NHS Improvement, Mr Morgan said it was “not out of the woods yet”.

At the start of the financial year, ULHT set a target of £70.3 million for its overspend.

So far, the trust is on track to meet that plan and recorded a £34 million deficit at the end of 2019.

However, Mr Morgan said the trust’s overspend could be around £90 million due to an “underlying deficit”.

Elsewhere, the trust also has a backlog of maintenance bills reaching into the hundreds of millions and still needs capital funding to expand Lincoln A&E.

Mr Morgan said there was still a “significant financial problem” which “eats away at energy” and can be demoralising for staff.

Meanwhile, the trust also finds itself in quality special measures and is rated as “requires improvement” by the Care Quality Commission.

Mr Morgan said the organisation has been in this position for a long time and it needs to be sorted.

“While we are in this position, we will always be under the spotlight,” he said.

“We just can’t let this carry on. We can’t let the quality concerns carry on and we can’t let the financial problems carry on.

“That’s why we have an improvement plan to once and for all sort this trust out.”

A plan to improve

Earlier this month, senior health officials approved a five-year improvement plan with an aim to make ULHT an “outstanding” trust.

The strategy outlines four areas the organisation needs to target in order to improve.

These include patients, people, services and partners.

Among the priorities in the plan are improving patient experience, using resources efficiently and having “well led” services.

Mr Morgan described the strategy as a “root and branch” approach which makes clear what the trust wants to achieve.

“My commitment and the work that we have been doing is about an integrated improvement plan,” he said.

“It gets us from where we are now, a double special measures trust that has ratings problems, money problems and has staff feedback problems to one that is well on the journey to becoming outstanding.”

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