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Windfall move for county healthcare delayed a year
A scheme that could see £8 million a year in extra money spent on Oxfordshire patients has been delayed.
Officials at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUHT) want more freedom for the county’s healthcare system to enable it to retain surpluses each year.
Currently this amounts to about £8m a year – but it all has to be passed on to the Government.
Health leaders want OUHT to become a foundation trust, a move they say would give them more money to deal with issues such as bed-blocking.
That issue, where patients spend longer than necessary in NHS beds, is worse in Oxfordshire than anywhere else in England, according to the most recent figures.
But major changes to the way the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors – who would approve foundation status – operate mean OUHT has now been told it will be autumn 2014 at the earliest before anything changes.
Jonathan Horbury, OUHT Foundation Trust programme director, said: “The delay is emphatically not anything we have or have not done.
“The delay, which is national, is that applicants cannot pass on to that final stage until they have been inspected by the CQC using the new inspection regime, which was tried out for the first time last week in Croydon.”
The county’s health trust has been trying to become a foundation trust since September 2011 and originally hoped to get the go-ahead this autumn.
But to do this the trust needs to be inspected by the CQC, which changed its inspection system in April and delayed the plans.
Now OUHT hopes to be inspected early next year, before eventually getting foundation trust status after a final approval from the watchdog Monitor .
Mr Horbury said: “We think foundation trust status is important for four reasons.
“It means we will be accountable to local people, decisions will be taken locally, we will retain the financial surplus and the status will recognise that we focus on quality and are well governed and financially viable.
“We are clearly an important local service and we can only improve what we do by listening to patients, staff and carers, and we hope becoming a foundation trust will help do that even better.”
Foundation trusts have an elected board of governors, which holds directors to account.
Discussion about their possible introduction here comes in the wake of a series of resignations from Healthwatch Oxfordshire, a body that holds health officials in the county to account.
Jacquie Pearce-Gervis, chairman of Oxfordshire watchdog Patient Voice, said: “The delay is most unfortunate and it must be very frustrating.
“I think foundation trust status is a good thing and the benefits to the patients will be good.”
Susanna Pressel, a member of Oxfordshire joint health overview and scrutiny committee, said: “Foundation trusts are a further example of the fragmentation of the NHS. “I would prefer to see all the hospitals working together and co-operating to help those that are struggling rather than becoming single entities.”
Professor Sir Mike Richards, CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said: “ I am working closely with Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority to determine which trusts should be included in the hospital inspection programme from 2014.
“It has been agreed that priority will be given to trusts which are aspiring to be foundation trusts.”
IN FOUNDATIONS WE TRUST
Foundation trusts, first proposed in 2002, were created to devolve decision-making from central government to local communities.
Unlike NHS trusts they are not directed by the Government and have great freedom to decide their own strategy and the way services are run.
They can also retain surpluses, borrow to invest in new services and are accountable to local communities through elected governors.
Foundation trusts now provide more than half – about 150 – of all NHS hospital, mental health and ambulance services in the country.
In Oxfordshire, South Central Ambulance Service and mental health provider Oxford Health are foundation trusts.
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