Nursing a crisis

Rod_of_asclepiusIn light of news earlier this month that the NHS is seriously overspending on agency staff, Rotherham Hospital provides a glimpse into how the dogma of outsourcing often achieves the exact opposite of its intended purpose which is to save money.

Absurd practices continue nearly a year after The Yorkshire Post revealed a damning report portraying Rotherham Hospital as chaotic and dysfunctional. That report, which the hospital fought in court to keep secret and lost, found financial mismanagement, staff feeling intimidated and harassed and possible conflict of interest in the board.

This came after a new digital patient record system pushed by the trust’s brass turned out useless for patients and ran over budget to the tune of £10m, having initially sucked out £30m in 2013, almost bankrupting the organisation. Rotherham General Hospital is now running a deficit of £31m, according to its most recent accounts.

A source of mine who works in the place reveals under the protection of anonimity that frontline morale is still low due to antique equipment and an obsession with investment at managerial level while actual healthcare is strained. Many gurneys and stretchers are 30+ years old and their condition matches their age. Said the source: “there’s better equipment in Eastern European hospitals.” When I put this to Rotherham NHS Trust, their PR agent said “when necessary, items are replaced”. So at least they’re still standing…

Staff is also baffled that ‘temp’ healthcare workers from the agency Thornbury Nursing Services, omnipresent on the hospital’s floors, are paid up to £40 an hour while directly-employed NHS workers earn a paltry-by-comparison £12 on the same jobs.

While the spokesperson was cagey about how many agency staff the hospital used in 2014 and did not deny that the rates were at the levels my source said they were at, she said there were 14 shifts given to ‘temp’ nurses on November 10th alone. My source confirmed this figure is typical for most days.

Why is the hospital paying another company’s personnel triple the NHS wages and then some? Well, “due to a sudden increase in activity over a defined period, the Trust requested support from Thornbury Services as they were able to assure shifts would be filled at short notice,” the same PR said. I understand this ‘sudden increase’ has been going on for more than a year.

As the Royal College of Nursing report linked to in the BBC article makes clear, this is now the norm in the NHS.

Thornbury Nursing Services is a trading name of Independent Clinical Services (ICS), a medical staff placement agency that supplies NHS hospitals all over the UK.

Asset management firm Tower Brook Capital bought ICS this summer from Blackstone Capital, another asset management company which is one of the world’s biggest. As soon as that happened, Tower Brook, which manages north of £5bn, poached chairman Paul Pindar from Capita and put him in charge of ICS. Looking at Rotherham, he seems to be getting along swimmingly.

Tower Brook’s business of outsourcing public health services is concentrated in ICS, which covers many areas of vital importance, such as prison medical staff, NHS finance management, nursing and doctors.

Presumably to that end, Tower Brook’s political mastermind and CEO Ramez Sousou made himself a regular at dinners with the Prime Minister and is a big sponsor of the Conservative Party. He’s donated hundreds of thousands in the past five years. Last year he gave £46,800 to the Tories, according to the Electoral Commission.

A statement filed this May by ICS shows its capital standing at £20,849,370.

The international symbol of medicine (pictured, source Wikimedia Commons), the staff of Asclepios, rather looks from this angle like a pig hugging a trough.

P.S.: Should it more appropriately be called ‘the outsourced staff of Asclepios’?

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