Vauxhall Labour MP Kate Hoey has launched a blistering attack on plans to create the biggest NHS trust in England by merging Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals with King’s College Hospital and the South London and Maudsley mental health trust.
Speaking in a Commons debate on transparency in the NHS on Thursday afternoon, Ms Hoey said: “What has been called the King’s Health Partners has sought to bring together the research work at King’s College medical school with others, and the body is now growing to be almost an entity in itself, making decisions, sending out publicity and getting further and further away from the foundation trust.”
She added: “One thing the King’s Health Partners are doing in the name of foundation trusts is steamrolling ahead to bring about a merger of Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals, which is a huge trust, King’s College Hospital, which is another huge trust, and the South London and Maudsley trust. It is believed that the merger will somehow lead to a “world-class” – I do not know how many times members have heard the term – hospital.
“I am furious and angry – as are, I think, all five of the MPs representing the area – at how this merger has been handled.
“The lack of openness has been appalling and there has been no public board meetings or disclosure of information about the proposed changes. The proposals have been either badly put forward or not put forward at all.
“The board at Guy’s and St Thomas’ has an occasional surreal meeting as a showcase for public involvement, but it never discusses the real issues. It opens meetings for the public only when it suits the board.”
Ms Hoey said she had recently received a letter from their chairman of Guy’s and St Thomas’, Sir Hugh Taylor, who “wrote to say that the project is forging ahead with a full business case”.
“William McKee, who brought together trusts in Northern Ireland, has been appointed and we are told that he is going to spend at least £5 million to bring about the business case to show why this will be such a wonderful idea,” said the MP.
“Simon Hughes and I have written back asking who is actively responsible, how the money from the different bodies is being allocated, what the precise budget will be and how it will be spent by whom. The whole accountability thing is there in a nutshell. Who is actually accountable?
“Does the Secretary of State have any say whatsoever? No. Apparently he is only interested if the move will clearly not be good for patients in clinical terms.
“I know that the establishment of such a large trust will be totally against the interests of people. Trusts cannot operate on such a large scale. One chief nurse cannot be responsible for all those hospitals.”
Health think tank The King’s Fund recently carried out a review of the merger proposals. It warned that if the merger does not proceed then the status quo may be unsustainable as the pressures on the NHS increase. The report also noted that the anticipated benefits of the merger needed to be better explained in order for local stakeholders to feel confident that they would be achieved.
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Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey has appealed for caution on plans for a super-merger between Guys’ and St Thomas’ Hospitals, King’s College Hospital and local mental heath services.
The MP was speaking at the annual public meeting of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust held on Wednesday evening at St Thomas’ Hospital.
This summer King’s Health Partners – the umbrella group for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London – said that the organisations could merge as soon as 2014.
“All five of the members of Parliament across Southwark and Lambeth have written to the [trust] chief executives expressing our concern not just at the way this has been handled but also asking for some very careful consideration as to whether a merger … is really the way forward to achieve what we all want to see,” Kate Hoey told the public meeting.
“I’m not interested in being the world’s most famous international academic centre of excellence. I’m interested in what is happening to the people I represent in Lambeth and the people other members of Parliament represent in Lambeth and Southwark.
“I would urge a little bit of caution … this is not something that should be rushed into.
“It is not something that should be led by the academics … this should be led by the hospitals and you have to engage with the community.”
She added: “The community has not been involved in any way whatsoever.”
To applause, Ms Hoey concluded: “On behalf of all the other MPs, we will not allow this merger to happen unless we are absolutely clear that it is really going to benefit the people we represent and the wider interests of the National Health Service.”
Sir Hugh Taylor, chairman of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust replied: “None of this is going to happen in haste. We’ve a long way to go until a concrete decision is taken to go in this direction.
“We’ve effectively manoeuvred ourselves into a position where all the King’s Health Partners – the local trusts and the university – see, as we set out in the strategic outline case, potential benefits of doing this but I recognise that these have got to be articulated much more crisply and explicitly in terms of benefits to local patients.”
He added: “Kate’s words of caution are well taken. They are echoed in the council of governors and they are echoed in our board. We are not running headlong into this with our eyes closed but we do see potential benefits.”
The Vauxhall Labour MP also questioned hospital bosses about their plans to hand over the running of the outpatient pharmacy service to Sainsbury’s, describing the move as “the thin end of the wedge”.
Sir Hugh said: “I think it is important to remind colleagues that local pharmacy services in the NHS have been provided by retail providers and pharmacists since the inception of the NHS. There’s nothing new about organisations outside the NHS providing pharmacy services.
“The reasons we have made this decision are partly financial. We expect to make, between ourselves and the commissioners, a saving of around £3 million as a result of doing this because of the different treatment for VAT purposes of local pharmacy providers and hospital pharmacy providers.”
He said patients would also benefit from longer pharmacy opening hours and a wider range of services as a result of the new arrangements.
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Plans to merge Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust with King’s College Hospital and the South London and Maudsley Trust have moved a step closer.
The boards of Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trusts have each agreed to continue exploring plans for an organisational merger and a strengthened partnership with King’s College London, their joint academic partner.
The proposal is set out in a strategic outline case which was approved by each of the boards and King’s College London, although the college would not be a legal partner in any merger.
“The new organisation would mean better care for our patients, a faster translation of research into treatments and an integration of mental and physical health rarely seen elsewhere,” says Professor Sir Robert Lechler, executive director of King’s Health Partners.
“It would give us the opportunity to create a world leading institution, capable of attracting the best clinicians, that our patients, communities and staff can be proud of.”
If a full business case for this proposal is approved by the boards of the organisations and the regulators, the merger could take legal effect in 2014 – though the partners have warned that uncertainty created by the Government’s NHS reforms could delay the process.
The new organisation would have a turnover of about £2.6 billion and around 29,000 staff, but – it is claimed – would be structured so that decisions were taken locally, giving staff greater autonomy and making the organisation more accountable to its patients and commissioners.
The partners have also made clear that key services such as accident and emergency and maternity units would still be provided at both St Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College Hospital.