After the NHS announced the introduction of ‘Hospital Chains,’ Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, has revealed that 13 new hospital ‘vanguards’ will be formed as part of dramatic new plans to amalgamate a number of different national care providers.
What is Changing?
The new plans overturn 67 years of NHS history and the nature of the independent ‘NHS Foundation Trust’ as we know it. Historically, hospital Trusts have operated independently from each other. However, the new ‘hospital vanguards’ will see primary care services, hospitals, community care services and GPs working together to form ‘national chains.’
The new plans will see prestigious hospitals such as The Christie in Manchester, providing services for patients in other parts of England. This may include greater use of clinical networks across nearby sites, joint ventures between NHS organisations, or the delivery of specialist single services across a number of different providers.
In June 2015, Jeremy Hunt said the aim of the new hospital chain was to help spread “good practice around the system.” The change to the existing system has been dictated by huge pressures facing the NHS that include increasingly tight budgets balanced against an ageing population and more people living with long-term conditions.
The measures are being implemented in a bid to improve struggling hospitals’ financial records and build on the work carried out by Sir David Dalton, CEO of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, which will now join with a number of other organisations including NHS Salford CCG, Salford City Council and Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, to form ‘Salford Together.’
It is believed that this model of pooling together expertise in one organisation will see patients receive more coordinated care as it will be provided by health and social care professionals all working within the same organisation.
Other examples across the country include specialist orthopaedic hospitals in London, Birmingham and Oswestry forming the National Orthopaedic Alliance, and Manchester’s Christie hospital, the Royal Marsden and the University College hospital - all centres of outstanding care - banding together to extend their work across England.
How Will Patient Care Be Affected?
Mr Stevens says he is confident that the radical plan will benefit patients because it will see highly skilled doctors working in several places and some of the NHS’s best hospitals delivering services inside others.
In theory, it should allow more patients to be cared for by leading doctors in their fields. Mr Stevens says, “We’ve got some of the world’s best hospitals and specialists in this country, and it is right they should be able to extend their reach more widely, as the vanguard programme will now allow them to do.”
With the NHS under constant pressure to save money, it is also thought that the new approach to hospital partnerships will help sustain the viability of local hospitals, share clinical and management expertise across different geographical areas and drive efficiencies within the NHS. Partnerships between hospitals will replace competition and whilst each would retain their separate identity, working together will allow expertise and resources to be shared.
Although measures to provide greater access to specialist treatments and improve patient care are of course welcome, the decision to allow hospitals to band together into chains is not without its critics. There have been repeated warnings that the move could result in smaller local hospitals ultimately reducing the services they offer.
Dr Clive Peedell, an oncologist who co-chairs the National Health Action party, said, “the danger would be that smaller trusts are gobbled up by larger ones in the name of efficiency, leaving services much less accessible for local people.” A number of NHS sources have also admitted that the changes could lead to large high-performing hospitals taking over smaller district general hospitals, which are more local to many communities.
The consequences of shared services and local hospitals closing their doors are that, some patients will need to travel greater distances in order to receive their treatment. Arguably, this makes the treatment less accessible, particularly for those on low-incomes or with severe disabilities.
It also raises questions about how follow-up appointments will be conducted. Will patients be expected to travel each time? And if the follow-up appointment is to take place outside of a specialist centre, are there any risks to the patient by them receiving follow-up treatment by someone other than the specialist who carried out their surgery?
Slater and Gordon’s Clinical Negligence lawyers will certainly be keeping track of how the new Vanguard system operates over the coming months and we hope that it will prove to be a step forward in improving patient care, without a loss of local services and without imposing any burden on patients having to travel in order to receive specialist care.
If you or a member of your family suffered from negligent treatment in hospital, call our Medical Negligence Solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or start your claim online and we will call you.