Monday, October 15, 2007

Holding Our Public Sector To Account

A huge thank you to all those people who contacted me and left messages over the weekend about their experiences in Tunbridge Wells hospitals.

At this morning's meeting of the County Council Cabinet, we discussed as an urgent item the Healthcare Commission's report into Clostridium Difficile at the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Hospital Trust. At the table with us were Greg Clark MP, Steve Phoenix chief Executive of West Kent PCT, and Glenn Douglas, Rose Gibb's replacement as Chief Executive of the MTW Hospital Trust. Also present was a large contingent of television cameras and press.

This was not a time for finger pointing - as I said "this transcends politics. My daughters were both born at Pembury Hospital. Either of them - or my wife - could be on the list of 90 deaths."

The Cabinet's response was decisive - we offered to assist immediately with a short-term loan of five million pounds to fund a large part of the remedial action plan. We also indicated that we would set up a "HealthWatch" website and phone line for the public to report their concerns with healthcare to us directly; and offered to lend KCC senior management to the Trust in order to provide more practical day to day expertise.

However, we made it clear that in return the County Council expected its officers as well as its elected Members to play a strong role in monitoring and visiting the hospitals, on an 'access all areas' basis to establish whether the recommendations proposed by the Healthcare Commission were actually being delivered.

In the meantime, I asked two questions of Steve Phoenix and Glenn Douglas. The first was whether the cleaners' jobs, many of which had been held vacant as a cost-saving exercise, were now all filled by full-time staff.

My second question was that - in order to rebuild confidence in the health service in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells - could I seek confirmation that nobody who served on the now largely discredited Hospital Trust board would play any part in the new PFI hospital project, particularly as a member of the new PFI board?

The answer to the first question was that they had "seen a lot more cleaners around", and to the second question, one of the neatest sidesteps I've ever seen....

We can't let go of this issue. The public has a right to expect that those who lead bad services will be removed from their posts.

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