Barts Health, the largest NHS trust in England, is now in special measures following a Care Quality Commission (CQC) report into Whipps Cross Hospital. The trust was formed as a result of a merger between Barts and the London, Newham University Hospital and Whipps Cross in 2013. The chief executive, Peter Morris; the chief nurse and the chair of the trust have all resigned with more likely to follow.
The trust also faces a deepening financial crisis with a deficit that has doubled in just seven months to £93 million. Barts has the biggest Private Finance Initiative (PFI) debt in Europe, paying £43 million a year interest to private investors on the PFI contracts, with the eventual bill for the new Royal London Hospital being a staggering £1.9 billion.
The damning report by the CQC found Whipps Cross University Hospital to be inadequate. Its reports into the other trust hospitals will be out in coming weeks. At Whipps Cross the CQC found a persistent culture of bullying and harassment; staffing levels insufficient to provide safe care; a high use of agency staff impacting on care and incurring high costs; low staff morale; bed occupancy that was too high and a failure to meet national waiting time targets.
This was not news to health workers and union activists at Whipps Cross. When the trust merger was announced in 2013, Unison, RCN and Unite activists warned of the disastrous consequences of Barts’ “turnaround plan”, including cutting 220 jobs and downbanding hundreds of staff, many of whom were forced to reapply for their own jobs. The health unions missed the opportunity last year to strike against the service cuts and the downbanding across Barts, in spite of an overwhelming indicative ballot for industrial action by Unison members at Whipps Cross and packed joint union meetings.
Health workers were also supported by a vibrant local community campaign. Things could have turned out very differently.
The trust’s response is to put in a more “supportive” management team with staff representatives. However, our answer must be to rebuild union organisation and fight to reverse the cuts. The inspiring picket lines during the pay strikes gave confidence to Whipps Cross workers and show what is possible. There is also widespread support for the reinstatement of Charlotte Monro, Unison branch chair at Whipps Cross, who was blocked from representing members just before the job and pay cuts began and was subsequently sacked.
Community health campaigners across east London are demanding that the PFI is stopped from bleeding our NHS dry. This government aims to privatise and destroy the NHS. And we cannot rely on a future Labour government to rescue it. We can stand up to Barts Health and the Tory agenda and win if we unite together.
**UPDATE** Since publication Charlotte Monro has won her reinstatement at Whipps Cross - showing that if you fight you can win.
Jim Fagan (retired member Unison) and Sam Strudwick (Unison) both write in a personal capacity