With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the independent review of Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust, which was conducted for NHS Improvement by Dr Bill Kirkup and published today.
What happened to patients of Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust is, before anything else, a terrible personal tragedy for all families involved, and the report also makes clear the devastating impact on many frontline staff. On behalf of the Government I apologise to them, and I know that the whole House will want to extend our sympathies to every one of them.
As Mr Speaker correctly identified, I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper). The people of Merseyside know only too well the cost of attempting to silence the victims and campaigners for those seeking justice. As the report makes clear, her personal commitment to get to the truth on behalf of the victims of Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust, her personal courage in asking difficult questions of those in senior positions within the NHS, and the persistence and precision of her search for accountability, are all vindicated today. We in this House, and across the wider health and social care services, owe her a debt. I also thank Dr Kirkup and his team for this excellent report. As with his report on Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, it is a clear, forensic, and at times devastating account of failures in the care of Liverpool Community Trust by its management, its board, and its regulators.
The report covers the period from the trust’s formation in November 2010 to December 2014, and it describes an organisation that was, “dysfunctional from the outset”. The consequences of that for patient care were in some cases appalling, and the report details a number of incidents of patient harm including pressure sores, falls leading to fractured hips, and five “never events” in the dental service—an incredibly high number for one organisation.
The failings of the organisation were perhaps most starkly apparent in the services provided at Liverpool Prison, where the trust failed to properly risk-assess patients, including for nutrition and hydration, and it did not effectively manage patients at high risk of suicide. The review also identified serious failings in medicine management at the prison. There are many more examples of poor care and its impact on both patients and staff in the report, but what compounds the shock is the lack of insight into those failings displayed by the organisation at the time. This was the very opposite of a culture of learning, with incidents under-reported or played down, warning signals ignored, and other priorities allowed to take the place of patient safety and care for the vulnerable.
We have seen this sort of moral drift before, most obviously at Mid Staffordshire and Morecambe Bay. As with Mid Staffordshire, the management at Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust put far too much emphasis on achieving foundation trust status. The review states that,
“the trust undertook an aggressive cost improvement plan, targeting a £30 million reduction over five years. This represented a cut in resources of approximately 22%. We were surprised that such an ambitious financial reduction was not scrutinised more closely—by both commissioners and regulators.”
There is a direct line from the decision to pursue foundation trust status in that reckless manner to the harm experienced by patients. Indeed, an earlier report by solicitors Capsticks reported in March 2016 that the interim chief executive who took over from Bernie Cuthel found in her first week that
“there was an underspending by £3 million on district nursing. These teams were devastated because they weren’t allowed to recruit, some of them down to 50%”.
This is a district nursing service in which Dr Kirkup reports that patients were experiencing severe pressure sores, up to what is clinically called grade 3. That was accompanied by many of the hallmarks of an organisation that has lost sight of its purpose. As Dr Kirkup states,
“the evidence that we heard and saw amply confirmed the existence of a bullying culture within the Trust, focused almost entirely on achieving Foundation Trust status. Inadequate staffing levels, poor staff morale and appalling HR practice went unheeded. This was the end result of inexperienced leadership that was not capable of rising to the challenges presented by the Trust.”
Following the Mid Staffordshire report, Dr Kirkup recognises that steps have been taken to introduce independent, clinically-led inspection by the Care Quality Commission. The Government have also introduced the special measures regime within NHS Improvement. Alongside this, we have put in place a number of measures to create a wider culture of learning and improvement. The Secretary of State has offered a great deal of personal leadership in helping to create this culture, including the establishment of an independent chief inspector for hospitals, whom I met yesterday and spoke with again this morning, and the recent introduction of measures to support trusts to learn from deaths and to improve patient safety.
I am sure I am not alone in finding it astonishing that Dr Kirkup found there was a
“small minority of individuals who refused to co-operate”
with the review. I wholeheartedly agree with his view that
“it remains the duty of all NHS staff to assist as fully as they are able with investigations and reviews that are directed toward improving future services”.
All but one of the board of the Liverpool trust shirked their legal and moral responsibility to be candid about the organisation they governed. In large, complex organisations, responsibility and accountability are always distributed to some degree. It is the case that the higher up in an organisation someone is, the greater their degree of responsibility. In this case those individuals were Bernie Cuthel as chief executive and Frances Molloy as chair. It is clear from reading the report that they each must take a significant share of the responsibility for these failures.
Hon. Members will, I am sure, have noted the conclusion to the clinical governance section of the report, which highlights the responsibility of the former chief executive of the trust for the system of clinical governance and its failures. It would appear from the report that while the former chief executive, Ms Cuthel, is now able to see that there were failures in clinical governance, she does not have as strong a sense of her own responsibility as one might expect. I understand that she is no longer employed in the NHS in England, but she does continue to hold a role working with the NHS in Wales.
In response to this report, the Government intend to take a number of actions. First, the Government accept the recommendations in full. While this was a report commissioned by NHS Improvement, I will write to all the organisations named in the recommendations set out at section six of the report, asking them to confirm what steps they will take to implement the recommendations, or to set out their reasons for not doing so. I will ensure copies of that response are shared with the Health Committee.
Secondly, one recommendation is specifically for the Department of Health and Social Care, as set out in paragraph 6.5 on page 64. This relates to a review of CQC’s fit and proper person test. I intend to discuss the terms of that review with the hon. Member for West Lancashire and will appoint someone to undertake that review within the coming days. I believe that review will need to address the operation and purpose of the fit and proper test, including but not limited to: where an individual moves to the NHS in another part of the United Kingdom; where they leave but subsequently provide healthcare services to the NHS from another healthcare role, such as with a charity or a healthcare company; where differing levels of professional regulation apply, such as a chief executive who is a clinician compared to one who is a non-clinician; where there is a failure to co-operate with a review of this nature and what the consequences of that should be; and reviewing the effectiveness of such investigations themselves when they are conducted. I will be pleased to hear the views of the hon. Member for West Lancashire, and those of the Health Committee, on these issues.
Thirdly, I have asked the Department to review the effectiveness of sanctions where records go missing in a trust, or where records appear to have been destroyed.
Fourthly, I have asked the Department for advice on what disciplinary action could be taken against individuals in relation to the findings of this report. Clearly due process needs to be followed, but it is important that we address a revolving door culture that has existed in parts of the NHS, where individuals move to other NHS bodies, often facilitated by those who are tasked with regulating them.
Fifthly, I will ask NHS Improvement and NHS England to clarify the circumstances under which roles were found or facilitated for individuals identified in the report as bearing some responsibility for the issues at the trust.
Finally, I have spoken with colleagues at the Ministry of Justice and confirm to the House that they intend to investigate the issues arising from this report in respect of HMP Liverpool specifically and the prison estate more generally.
All organisations and individuals make mistakes. Where this is used as an opportunity to learn and improve, we will do all we can to provide support. Where, however, there is any kind of cover-up or a blinkered denial of what has happened, Members of this House and the victims of that wrongdoing have a right to expect accountability. The hon. Member for West Lancashire has done the NHS a great service. I will place a copy of the Kirkup review in the House of Commons Library. The Government are acting in full on the findings of the report.