Outsourced NHS urgent treatment had “deficiencies” in senior staff says boss

The boss of four “inadequate” urgent treatment centres in East London has said past “deficiencies” in senior medical staff contributed to its failings.

NHS North East London contracted Partnership of East London Co-operatives (PELC) to run four urgent treatment centres, including at Queen’s Hospital in Romford and King George Hospital in Goodmayes.

PELC is responsible for assessing all walk-in patients at both hospitals, as well as at Barking Community Hospital and Harold Wood Walk-in Centre.

Following an inspection last year, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) downgraded PELC’s services from “requires improvement” to “inadequate”.

Inspectors ordered PELC to improve on low staffing levels, unsafe assessment waiting times and said leadership had failed to improve when “things had gone wrong”.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the CQC report was published in January, PELC’s chief executive Steve Rubery said he replaced the services’ medical director within six weeks of taking over in May last year.

He told an outer East London health scrutiny committee this week: “I identified very early on that we had a deficiency in our medical team, I replaced the medical director within six weeks and she started not long before the CQC inspection came.

“We now have a substantive team – we haven’t had that for quite a few years – and we now have a refreshed strategy. The organisation is starting to feel a little more stable on the operational side of things.”

Mr Rubery said the centres’ success rate when it comes to assessing all walk-in patients within 15 minutes – a key NHS target – has “steadily increased” from less than 20 per cent of patients in November last year.

While assessments at Queen’s, King George and Harold Wood met the 15-minute target for more than 70 per cent of walk-ins by late February, about half of patients arriving at Barking Community Hospital are still waiting longer to be seen.

The hospital sites treat the majority of patients who arrive with minor injuries and illnesses, while those with more serious conditions are transferred to A&E departments.

The chief executive, who previously worked at the NHS body that commissions PELC services, admitted that until last year it did not “accurately measure” how quickly patients were assessed.

Committee member Beverley Brewer called PELC’s inadequate rating “another unfortunate example” of poor quality NHS services in East London.

After the November inspection, the CQC reported some patients were being put at “serious risk of harm” because they had not received urgent treatment for up to five hours.

NHS North East London (NHS NEL), which is responsible for monitoring PELC’s performance, had not held regular performance meetings with the organisation since 2020.

NHS NEL’s Chetan Vyas said PELC is now subject to “enhanced quality surveillance” and fortnightly meetings have been restarted.

PELC has been operating King George Hospital’s urgent treatment since 2011. Inspectors from the CQC placed PELC’s hospital service in special measures in 2018, but the same year the NHS awarded it the contract to run the same service at Queen’s Hospital.

In 2020, the North East London CCG, which oversaw primary care in East London until last year, granted PELC a new contract for the four sites it currently runs.

Mr Rubery admitted that PELC has been a “yo-yo organisation” when it came to CQC ratings, but said he felt “confident” that it would improve its performance “in the next financial year”.

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