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‘Tolerance of poor standards’ at mental health trust, report finds

Hellesdon Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Hellesdon Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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A damning review into the leadership at the region’s mental health trust has identified a “tolerance of poor standards”, it can be revealed.

NHS Improvement, the national body which oversees health trusts, ordered the report into Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) in a bid to fix issues raised when the service was put into special measures last year.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) branded NSFT as inadequate in October for the second time in three years.

The CQC laid much of the blame at the feet of the board of directors and said they “had failed to address all the serious concerns that had been reported to them since 2014”.

And a new report by consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), released ahead of a board of directors meeting today (Thursday), will again make difficult reading for those at the top who were accused of being too positive and quick to absolve themselves of responsibility.

Gary Page, the trust’s chair, pledged to “not shy away from these difficult issues” and said the team was “wholeheartedly committed to improving quality and safety”.

The PwC report said the board needed to recognise its “collective and ultimate responsibility for ensuring that standards are being met” and that there was “a tendency to externalise things away from the board, rather than decide on clear specific action or intervention to be taken”.

And it added: “During the board meeting we observed, there was a tendency to be too positive about action being taken to address patient safety risks. More objective consideration of why risks hadn’t been identified and addressed sooner would have been more appropriate.”

The consultants said the trust had “weak clinical leadership” which undermined efforts to make improvements and the board was not using information or data correctly to monitor quality.

And not enough attention had been paid to making cultural changes. Instead, the report said: “This trust has become accustomed to operating in a reactive manner”. It added: “The board’s focus has been dominated by the quality, reputational and operational challenges the trust has faced.”

There was also a concern staff “do not identify with a vision or a strategy for the trust and have become passive to affecting change or improvement”.

But the auditors also said non-executive directors provided “strong challenge”.

And the trust had developed an action plan, which will be presented today, to address the problems.

Mr Page said: “We welcome this comprehensive report from PwC, and we will use it as another extremely useful guide to help us continue to focus on our core issues, sense check our priorities, and put right concerns for our service users, carers and our staff.

“We will not shy away from these difficult issues and this is why the board worked collaboratively with PwC throughout the review process.

“We recognise many of the issues which have been raised in the report and have already started to address a number of these, setting them as priorities within our annual plan.”

Directors will discuss the report and action plan at a board meeting today, in Norwich.

The public meeting will be held from 12.30pm to 3.30pm at the King’s Centre, King Street.

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