The 11 questions we want Norfolk NHS turnaround chief to answer

Philippa Slinger, improvement director at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust and the Norfolk and N

Philippa Slinger, improvement director at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: HSJ - Credit: Archant

Questions are today being asked about why the woman in charge of turning around our two largest health bodies - both of which are failing - will not speak out about the changes planned.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: NNUH

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: NNUH - Credit: NNUH

Philippa Slinger, improvement director at the region's mental health trust and the county's flagship hospital, was parachuted in by regulator NHS Improvement (NHSI) when the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) went into special measures in October.

And when the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) was rated inadequate last month she was given the task of making changes there too.

This prompted concerns over whether enough time could be dedicated to each trust if Ms Slinger was dividing her time between the two.

And after she refused to speak to this newspaper to answer those concerns and talk about her plans, MPs, unions and campaign groups have come together to call for more involvement of patients and staff in the battle to fix our health service.

Hellesdon Hospital. Picture: BILL SMITH/ARCHANT ARCHIVE

Hellesdon Hospital. Picture: BILL SMITH/ARCHANT ARCHIVE - Credit: Archant © 2012

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Last month NHSI, which oversees trusts, refused to confirm it was Ms Slinger who was appointed as improvement director at the NNUH.

That information has since been confirmed via other sources.

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Since then requests for interview, to Ms Slinger directly and through NHSI, have either been ignored or refused.

An NHSI spokesman said stakeholders would be kept posted, but did not confirm whether this included patients or how updates would be communicated.

Jan McLachlan, from the NHS Norfolk Action Group, said: 'It's two jobs for one person. We're not happy with the level of public engagement, it's about the patients because it's their services which are failing here.'

Combined, the two trusts treat more than 1.06m patients a year, but staff have also been hit hard by the reports.

And Unite lead officer for health in East Anglia Mark Robinson said they needed to be informed of what changes were being made too.

He said: 'There needs be greater transparency and openness so that staff and patients have a greater understanding and involvement in future plans for healthcare across the region.'

Norwich South MP, Labour's Clive Lewis, said: 'It's not a particularly good thing to have one person doing these two jobs because the two trusts are very different.'

He said both organisations deserved to have the full-time focus of someone committed to the role. But he also questioned the effectiveness of parachuting in an outside influence to turn things around.

He said: 'She is the third improvement director at NSFT, but it deserves more attention than that because it's in such a state that even full-time improvement directors have not been able to sort it out.'

He added that refusing interviews and a lack of public engagement was worrying.

He said: 'There's a massive level of public interest and the public are entitled to quiz highly-paid improvement directors through the media on their services.'

Last week Conservative Chloe Smith, who represents Norwich North, said she had asked the NNUH to hand over its improvement plan and 'to give the community confidence that their leadership can deliver'.

Yesterday she said staff and patients needed to be able to trust 'senior people who are paid to do a job' to make improvements.

And a spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: 'We find it very hard to understand how being the improvement director of NSFT is a part-time job, given that NSFT is the only mental health trust in the country to have been placed in special measures twice.

'We have asked for meetings with NHS Improvement and NHS England but our polite requests have been ignored.

'We had hoped that Ms Slinger would be a champion for mental health but her appointment at the N&N and her unwillingness to engage with service users and carers makes this look unlikely.

'The previous improvement director had a far more prestigious resumé but found the time to meet us on at least a monthly basis.'

Some of the questions we believe the public deserve an answer to are:

• Given these are organisations employing thousands of staff, is it possible to give both the attention they need?

• How will you specifically improve NSFT and NNUH?

• This is the second time NSFT has been placed in special measures. If it improves how will that be maintained?

• There are many claims of a lack of parity of esteem which impacts the mental health sector. Will funding fall under your remit?

• Will you publicly publish the improvement plans?

• The leadership of both trusts has been criticised. Does individual performance come under the terms of your review?

• How will you engage with the patients and get their views?

• How will you engage with staff and get their views?

• Will you meet with groups representing patients and carers?

• Both organisations suffer from staffing issues, such as high turnover, recruitment problems and having to rely on too many agency staff. Will this form part of the review?

• The NNUH has said it will ask for more money from your organisation. Will you back this bid or at least include it as part of your review?

What did NHSI say?

An NHSI spokesman said the improvement director was just one part of any plan. They said: 'The full package is always tailored to the particular issues and challenges faced. Our primary focus is ensuring that improvements for patients are made both rapidly and sustainably.

'We are committed to providing timely updates on the progress being made by special measures trusts, and will continue to do so. Similarly, we expect to see all trusts involving patients and staff in their plans for the future.''

Where has Philippa Slinger worked before?

Ms Slinger has been an improvement director for NHSI since February 2017.

She spent time in the Isle of Wight, where the trust remains rated inadequate, with the most recent inspection report released last month.

Before then she was at private firm Care UK as managing director of secondary care, from April 2014 to September 2016.

As chief executive at Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, from October 2011 to February 2014, she was caught in a crisis when a 14-year dispute over harm to patients came to a head.

An internal audit uncovered the conflicts and 48 cases of possible patient harm that were never investigated. Leaked emails from Ms Slinger at the time showed she was worried patients would be scared to go to Wexham Park Hospital.

Shortly after Ms Slinger left the Heatherwood and Wexham Park was put into special measures in the May, and by October had merged with another trust, which is rated outstanding.

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