Mail on Line By LIZ HULL FOR THE DAILY MAIL 2 May 2016
- Health bosses at top NHS trust put thousands at risk with aggressive cuts
- Executives ignored warnings from whistleblowers, threatened to sack them
- Liverpool Community Health Trust bosses desperate for foundation status
- They presided over an ‘oppressive’ culture of bullying and harassment
Health bosses at a top NHS trust put thousands at risk by aggressively driving through cuts at the expense of patient safety, a report has revealed.
In a case likened to the Mid-Staffordshire scandal, executives ignored endless warnings from whistleblowers – and threatened to sack them when they complained.
The £160,000 report said bosses at Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust were so desperate to gain the Government’s coveted foundation status that huge budget cuts came before care.
They presided over an ‘oppressive’ culture of bullying and harassment between 2011 and 2014, where staff were afraid to speak out.
In one case, a district nurse was taken hostage at knifepoint and sexually assaulted by a patient’s relative in 2013 – but they did nothing. Some workers were ‘driven to the brink,’ while others even considered suicide.
Only when whistleblowers alerted an MP were watchdogs brought in and top managers forced out.
It is thought to be the first time NHS staff have forced out chiefs and kept their jobs. At least one boss is still working in the NHS, but the report recommends they should be investigated.
The report, ordered by the trust’s new management imposed in April 2014 and written by an independent law firm, likened the situation to that at Mid-Staffs Hospital, where up to 1,200 patients died.
It revealed that regulators and commissioners who inspected LCHT – providing community health services for 750,000 people in Liverpool and Merseyside – also failed to notice what was going on.
Last night, Labour MP Rosie Cooper, contacted by the whistleblowers after complaints about her own elderly father’s care, demanded an inquiry. The report also revealed that bosses stockpiled £3million of taxpayers’ money due to be spent on district nurses.
Review author Moosa Patel, head of governance at law firm Capsticks, said problems began in 2011 soon after LCHT was formed.
He said chief executive Bernie Cuthel, her executive nurse and operations director Helen Lockett, director of human resources and organisational development Michelle Porteus – and the non-executive board – were determined to gain foundation status.
It meant they pushed through savings regardless of the impact on patients or staff. Introduced by Labour in 2002, foundation status enables best-performing trusts to set their own pay and build wards without prior Whitehall approval.
But the policy was discredited after it was revealed that criteria were too focused on savings.
Mr Patel found there was ‘a sustained drive from day one to achieve NHS foundation status. Inappropriate and unsafe care was not addressed and the response to adverse incidents was grossly deficient.
Speaking out about concerns was not easy. Such was the impact of this culture that some staff were driven to the brink.’
The report found that when staff raised concerns they were ignored or threatened with the sack.
When dentistry directors refused to sign off a 49 per cent or £2.7million budget cut they were suspended. Only when the chiefs were removed and new managers installed were they re-instated.
Last night Miss Cooper, who prompted the Care Quality Commission to investigate in January 2014 which led to the resignation of all three top managers, said a clinical inquiry was ‘vital’.
‘This report has uncovered an NHS scandal similar to Mid-Staffs but in community services,’ she said. ‘It is a peek through the keyhole.
‘There can be no hiding place for the executives who presided over this disgraceful state of affairs.’
An LCHT spokesman admitted there had been ‘deep-rooted’ problems but more than 150 nurses and other frontline staff had been recruited to boost quality of care.