Hospital launches foundation status bid

MARK NICHOLLS Bosses at Norfolk's busiest hospital are today taking the first crucial steps to cut free from the region's health system and seek more independence as a foundation trust.

MARK NICHOLLS

Bosses at Norfolk's busiest hospital are today taking the first crucial steps to cut free from the region's health system and seek more independence as a foundation trust.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is saying the move will free it of Department of Health constraints and allow it to gear treatment more to the needs of patients.

The N&N has rejected fears that its hopes of gaining foundation status within the next few months will be jeopardised by the poor financial performance of its main customer, Norfolk Primary Care Trust, in the same way that forced the county's mental health trust to delay a similar move because of fears of non-payment for services.

Today the N&N is launching a 12-week public consultation process on its proposals to become an NHS Foundation Trust in January 2008, which will give the trust more control of its financial affairs and business affairs.

Chairman David Prior said: “The significant benefit of foundation trust status is that we will be more independent from the Department of Health and central govern-ment. If you look at the main frustrations over the past five years it has been as a result of centrally-driven targets conflicting with local priorities.

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“We will be able to set our own priorities, which is an important difference, and local people will be able to have more say in what they want to see as local priorities.”

The N&N, built under a controversial PFI scheme, is the second hospital in the county to achieve foundation status, following the James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston, and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn, is also seeking to change. Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust is also well on the way to achieving such status, but delayed its application because it was felt that Norfolk PCT - the organisation that would be a key buyer of its services - was too much of a financial liability with a deficit of £48m.

Mr Prior said he felt the N&N would not be affected in the same way.

“The PCT's financial position is a factor but with its huge problems we have still been able to achieve financial balance and we are confident we will still be able to go forward,” he said.

The N&N would still be subject to regulation and monitored for quality by the Healthcare Commission and other agencies.

Following the consultation which runs to July 13, the N&N will submit its application to the East of England Strategic Health Authority and the DoH.

Mr Prior added: “We will be competing with other hospitals for patients. Health services will be different in future and we believe the N&N will be increasingly well-placed to increase its market share. We believe we will be able to offer treatment to more patients from outside the area as well as the local population.”

A series of consultation meetings starts at the Millennium Library, Norwich, on Thursday. Others are at Cromer Hospital (May 16), Dereham Library (June 15) and Attleborough Library (July 6), all between 9am and 5pm.

NHS foundation trusts are not controlled by Whitehall but are accountable to local people and to an independent regulator and have a membership that includes local residents who live within the trust's local area and staff. There will be a council of governors and a board of directors.

Under foundation status, the trust will be seeking around 10,000 “members” to influence its affairs. With 5,000 staff able to be members, the N&N wants to recruit another 5,000 from the public within the first year and increase that over future years.

After the consultation the feedback from staff, patients, public and partner organ-isations will become part of the N&N's application to the DoH.

People can also register their views and express an interest in becoming a member via the trust website at www.nnuh.nhs.uk/page/ft