Struggling hospitals ‘should be taken over, not merged’
By Mark Smulian | 28 September 2012
Mergers of failing NHS hospitals should be halted because this approach only worsens problems, a health adviser to the previous Labour government has said.
Professor Paul Corrigan, writing for the free market think-tank Reform, said private firms and successful NHS trusts should be encouraged to step in when hospitals are in trouble.
In a report Takeover: tackling failing NHS hspitals, written with business consultants John Higton and Simon Morioka, Corrigan said up to 30 NHS hospitals should be taken over during this Parliament.
The report based this figure on a June 2012 finding by the Department of Health that 21 NHS hospitals were ‘clinically and financially unsustainable’.
It said forcing underperforming hospitals to merge with each other was a failed approach because it simply created larger underperforming hospitals.
‘It is possible to develop a better hospital from the core of a failing one, but this will only be achieved by a profound and systemic change to the structure of the hospital,’ the report said.
‘The surest way of achieving this, learning from recent NHS history, is not a merger of equals, but the process whereby a very successful hospital takes over a failing one.’
Takeovers worked only when the acquiring organisation changed the business model and the working practices of the hospital concerned, the report concluded.
Corrigan, who advised former prime minister Tony Blair and former Labour health secretaries Alan Milburn and John Reid said: ‘Sooner or later, the government is going to have to acknowledge both the clinical and economic case for radical change amongst NHS hospitals. The sooner it does so, the easier for local change to be pursued with a prospect of success.’
He added: ‘Unless there is a threat of closure, the leadership of the organisation does not face up to the change.’
The report also criticised local politicians who often defended hospitals against closures or amalgamations no matter how poor their service standards.
‘If every failing hospital believes that its local elected politicians will stop its closure, then they will avoid going through the hard business of change,’ the report noted.