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House of Lords Hansard
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Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust
03 May 2016
Volume 771

Statement

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My Lords, with permission I shall repeat as a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Community and Social Care on Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. The Statement is as follows:

“The whole House was profoundly shocked by the Mazars report into the failings at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust following the tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk in July 2013. The first duty to patients and their loved ones is to keep them safe. This applies to all of us with a role to play in the NHS, from the front line to this House; and the Government are therefore clear that we must learn the lessons of this report for the NHS as a whole. We must ensure that the trust itself continues to be scrutinised and supported to make rapid improvements in care. If that means intervention from the regulators, they will not hesitate to take the necessary action, and we will not hesitate to back them.

Last week’s CQC report followed a focused inspection announced by the Secretary of State in December 2015. The report from the CQC set out a number of concerns, including: a lack of robust governance arrangements to investigate incidents; a lack of effective arrangements to identify, record or respond to concerns about patient safety; and a need for immediate action to address safety issues in the trust environment. The report also found that the senior management and board agendas were not driven by the need to address these issues.

I would like to set out for the House the action that NHS Improvement has taken in recent months to address the issues at the trust. NHS Improvement has been working closely with the CQC and the trust over recent months. On 24 March, NHS Improvement, which was operating as Monitor at the time, appointed an improvement director to the trust. On 14 April, following a CQC warning notice on 6 April, NHSI placed an additional condition on the trust’s licence, asking it to make urgent patient safety improvements to address the issues found by the CQC. This condition gave NHS Improvement the power to make management changes at the trust if it does not make progress on fixing the concerns raised.

On 29 April, following the resignation of the trust chair, Mike Petter, NHS Improvement announced its intention to appoint Tim Smart as the chair of the trust. As chair, Mr Smart will have responsibility for looking at the adequacy of the trust’s leadership. Given the centrality of issues of governance to the CQC’s report, I welcome the action taken by NHS Improvement. The direct appointment of a new chair by a regulator is a relatively rare step, and reflects the seriousness of the issues at the trust.

NHS Improvement will continue to monitor the situation closely in the coming weeks and months. I understand that the CQC is considering the trust’s response to its warning notice and the risks it highlighted before deciding whether to take any further enforcement action. The notice required significant improvements by 27 April. NHS Improvement is working closely with CQC and the trust, and there are monthly progress meetings between NHS Improvement and the trust.

In addition to the action we are taking on Southern Health, it is vital that we learn the wider lessons for the NHS as a whole. First, I hope the whole House can agree that it is right that we have robust, expert-led inspection from an independent CQC that provides an objective view about issues of safety and leadership, and that this is backed with action from NHS Improvement when that is required. Only by facing problems in care can we hope to solve them.

Secondly, it is vital that we ensure that we take the issue of avoidable mortality as seriously for people with learning disabilities and mental health problems as we do for other members of our society. To that end, the learning disability mortality review programme has been put in place by NHS England to ensure there is a continual cycle of learning about the causes of premature mortality in people with learning disability. In addition, the CQC will be leading a review of how all deaths are investigated, including those of people with learning disabilities or mental health needs. There can be no question that the CQC report makes for disturbing reading, and that it demands action at local and national levels. We owe our most vulnerable people care that is safe and secure, and I am determined that we do all we can to learn the lessons and make the necessary improvements in the weeks and months to come”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for reading the response to the UQ on the CQC’s serious concerns about the safety of mental health and learning disability patients at Southern Health Trust. The whole House is deeply shocked by the inadequate and completely ineffective response to the Mazars review’s findings, following the tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk over two years ago. The CQC’s stark assessment that serious risk to patients in ensuring their safety was still not driving the senior management or board agenda beggars belief in the light of the Mazars review and the CQC’s repeated concerns and warning notices. There are still no robust governance arrangements in place to investigate incidents and there is still a lack of effective arrangements to identify, record or respond to concerns about patient safety raised by patients, their carers, staff and the CQC. A particular concern is the continuing failure to act over important specific safety concerns about ligature risks in acute inpatient mental health and learning disabilities services and, given the terrible cause of Connor’s death, the board’s failure to give urgency to approval of the specific protocol for safe bathing and showering of people with epilepsy. Can the Minister assure the House that these will receive urgent attention by the new chair in his task of building new leadership and direction for the board and in an urgent programme of action for the trust?

Patients and their families need to see robust, urgent action and real accountability. When the Secretary of State responded to December’s UQ on Southern Health, he rightly said that, more than anything, people will,

“want to know that the NHS learns from … tragedies”,—[Official Report, Commons, 10/12/15; col. 1141.]

such as these. That clearly has not happened, so I ask the Minister what guarantees he can give to current patients and their families in the care of Southern Health that they are safe. Where is the accountability, culpability and responsibility? Can the Minister tell the House about the content and timescale of the review of the adequacies of the trust’s leadership that the new chair has been tasked with undertaking? Finally, will he listen to the heartfelt pleas of victims’ families, campaigners and all those who are demanding a full public inquiry into Southern Health and into the broader failure in adequately investigating preventable deaths?

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My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The original Mazars report highlighted two profoundly shocking issues: the tragic and preventable death of Connor Sparrowhawk and the fact that too many unexpected deaths among those of learning disabilities and older people with mental health problems were even being investigated. Why did a full three months elapse after the Mazars report was published—and, indeed, only after a BBC investigation covered it—before Monitor finally appointed an improvement director to go in to work with the trust on urgently needed improvement? Why the delay?

Secondly, despite a series of national reports—we have just heard about the CQC report—warning notices, monitoring and progress meetings, all referred to in the Statement, nothing has been said about the precise changes that have happened or improvements that have taken place in Southern Health Trust. When can we hope to hear about specific and tangible improvements to the care provided by Southern Health Trust to some very vulnerable people?

Thirdly, it is crystal clear that new leadership needs to be in place if the trust is to retain any credibility, particularly among the people and families who use its services. Why have there been different responses to Mid Staffs and Southern Health? Both are about the neglect and death of vulnerable people in NHS care. There have been serious consequences for those in leadership positions in Mid Staffs, but not so at Southern Health. What does that say about the value placed on the lives of people with learning disabilities and older people with mental health problems?

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My Lords, a number of serious questions have been asked. I shall make a personal observation. This trust is the result of the merger of three trusts: a mental health care trust, a community trust and a learning disabilities trust, three very complex businesses being brought together as one. They have 250 separate locations with over 1 million patient contacts every year. The risk inherent in that kind of business at this time is huge. In putting in a governance structure, we have to be very careful that we do not just draw up such structures in a boardroom or come up with strategies that cannot be implemented.

In the report, I was very struck by the fact that now there is almost a tick-box approach to the duty of candour; you tick the box to say that you have done it. Culture is usually important in this. What is the culture in the trust? That is one of the big issues that the CQC report is trying to get at. In response to the question of whether we can give guarantees about patient safety: this is inherently a very risky activity. Putting in strong governance structures is very important, but much will depend on the culture within the trust.

I turn to some of the particular points. I, too, was struck by the fact that there were still problems with ligature points in some of the facilities, as had been pointed out by the CQC some time ago. I was struck by the fact that the epilepsy protocol for those being bathed or showered had not yet been approved two and half years after Connor Sparrowhawk’s death. Clearly, there were very significant problems at the trust. On the question of where accountability and responsibility lie, the chairman has resigned. The principal job over the next three or so months will be assessing the capability of the executive management. That seems the right way to approach this.

It is always tempting to call for a public inquiry; I understand that temptation. We have an independent regulator, the CQC. The inspection team was led by mental health professionals and is fully transparent. We now have to give the trust the chance to respond to the CQC’s report and watch for serious improvements.

The noble Baroness asks if there have been any improvements. There are some illustrations and examples in the CQC report of where there have been some improvements, but putting in a new governance structure, changing the whole culture about raising concerns about those kinds of issues, will not happen overnight. Of course, I appreciate that for Connor Sparrowhawk’s family this happened two and a half years ago, and one must never lose sight of that.

A question was asked about NHS Improvement. It put in an improvement director. These people do not grow on trees. If we are honest about the NHS, we are very short of highly qualified and highly skilled senior management, and it sometimes takes time to find the right people.

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My Lords, the history of people with learning disabilities and mental health problems and the institutions in which they live goes back a long way. Many appalling situations have taken place, and I do not want to belittle this deplorable situation. However, did the report also identify areas of very good-quality care and professional standards? The danger is that vilifying an institution—and even going on to a public inquiry, which prolongs the agony even further—does not give it the opportunity to build on its strengths and provide the quality of care that the hundreds of people working there wish to provide and wish to be proud of doing.

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I am grateful to my noble friend for those comments. There are many examples in the CQC report of good care. In one of the domains that the CQC inspects, which is caring, it is clear that the vast majority of people who work for Southern Health are deeply caring, committed people. We have to be careful. I am afraid it is a question of the curate’s egg; the report is good in parts. I go back to what I said originally: an organisation this big is incredibly difficult to manage. That is one of the learnings that we need to take from this. The temptation to merge organisations to get centralised cost reduction, or whatever, is very tempting but leads to serious issues around governance.

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My Lords, where does Healthwatch come in? Should there not be far more openness and participation by the public to stop such things from happening? It is all very well having management, but one wants caring people from the community who will speak out on behalf of these people.

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My Lords, this goes back to the culture of the trust. It is important that members of the public or Healthwatch have a right to go in and visit facilities, and that they are welcomed there, but that they do not go native at the same time—that they are truly independent, looking at it from the patients’ perspective. Healthwatch has an important part to play, and the relationship that it has locally with the CQC inspection team is very important.

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My Lords, I am slightly perplexed. Why is it that, once again, it is only because an Urgent Question was tabled and agreed by the Speaker that Parliament knows all the details and is able to hold the Government to account? If, as the Minister says, the Government are so concerned about it, why did they not volunteer a Statement?

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My Lords, the CQC report is in the public domain, as are all the CQC reports. To be honest with your Lordships, I am not technically sufficiently aware of the procedures of the House to know why it did not automatically come to the House but, as I say, I am here today.