Magazine article Public Finance

Financial Targets No Excuse for Poor Service, NHS Trusts Told

Magazine article Public Finance

Financial Targets No Excuse for Poor Service, NHS Trusts Told

Article excerpt

NHS trusts must stop using the pursuit of strict financial targets as a 'facile' excuse for inadequate services, the sector's watchdog warned this week.

Anna Walker, chief executive of the Healthcare Commission, made her comments amid further evidence of deteriorating hygiene standards across England's hospitals.

Following the publication of the commission's annual NHS performance ratings on October 18, Walker told the boards at underperforming NHS trusts that she would not tolerate government-imposed financial targets being used as an excuse for the delivery of services so poor that patients' lives were put at risk.

'Targets, financial or otherwise, are no excuse for trusts not addressing themselves to quality-of-care issues. We've got to move on from that debate,' she told Public Finance. 'Any organisation has a budget and has to live within that budget that is just a fact of life.

'The point is that boards need to look at their business, which is to treat people who are ill. Issues of budgets and targets are not an excuse for not keeping patients safe.'

Walker's comments followed accusations from staff at Maidstone and Tunbridge WeUs NHS Trust that an outbreak of the superbug Clostridium difficile, which caused 90 deaths, was partially attributable to trust officials being distracted, and resources diverted, by financial targets.

Opposition MPs have warned that financial targets have led to service cuts, leaving hospital wards poorly staffed and dirty.

Walker said that the risk of suffering a healthcare-related infection was 'higher than it should be' and promised continued tough action' to help trusts.

The commission's latest ratings assessed the quality of services and use of resources across England's 394 NHS trusts. The watchdog found that services, in particular hygiene standards, were often 'weak', but that financial management had improved slightly.

In total, 111 trusts (28%) failed at least one of the government's three hygiene standards. These included 49 hospital trusts.

Walker stressed that this was partly attributable to tougher government requirements introduced last year, but the commission's literature states that the hygiene results represent a 'deterioration'.

Walker urged trust executives struggling to balance resource management with adequate patient safety to contact the commission. …

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