A STAFFORD health campaigner has warned plans to make Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust sustainable could lead to a metaphorical natural disaster.
Responding to reports by healthcare regulator Monitor that the trust was currently ‘unsustainable’, Diana Smith, of Save Stafford Hospital group, said consultants tasked with designing future services in the town could face difficulties.
“The management consultants are being left with a tough situation,” she said. “If you look at Mid Staffs in isolation it may appear ‘financially unsustainable’ but most people who study the health service accept that this is the case for dozens of district general hospitals.
“The consultants can see that packaging off bits of the services and relying on neighbouring hospitals is not something that the people who use Mid Staffs want, and that it will destabilise other hospitals too.
“It’s a bit like an earthquake,” she said. “There is the irresistible force of the political imperative for cost cutting. It meets the immovable object of the level of need.
“Massive damage follows, and it does not end there, because all down the fault line more earthquakes follow.”
Ms Smith said it was important to question what it was about Mid Staffs that made it ‘financially unsustainable’ in its current form.
“As voters we have a desire for better services for less tax,” she said. “A series of management consultants have been advising the Department of Health under successive governments on ‘magical solutions’ to deliver this.
“Some of these solutions are genuinely helpful, others much less so.”
Ms Smith said one of those ‘magical solutions’ in the past was to make Mid Staffs financially independent as a foundation trust, but suggested that was done at a cost to staffing levels.
“It did nothing to tackle the underlying problem that Mid Staffs had too many buildings, and was not attracting sufficient patients,” she said.
Ms Smith said a number of things could account for the current ‘unsustainability’ of the trust including too many empty buildings; changes in medicine delivery, with more day-care meaning less revenue; increasing specialisation, with the catchment area too small to support specialists, lost training revenue due to treatments and trainees being sent elsewhere; reputational damage increasing recruiting costs; the continued use of bank and agency staff; lost revenue due to the closure of A&E; competition with neighbouring hospitals; the tariffs – are we paying hospitals correctly for the services we need? And when patients choose or are referred by GPs to other hospitals.