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EXCLUSIVE: Having two A&E departments in south-east London is good for Bexley residents, says new SLHT administrator

PUBLISHED: 17:39 29 May 2013 | UPDATED: 10:45 30 May 2013

South London Healthcare Trust administrator Caroline Taylor (centre) with nurses Annette Shepard (left) and Olamide o Afilaka. Pic by Keith Larby.

South London Healthcare Trust administrator Caroline Taylor (centre) with nurses Annette Shepard (left) and Olamide o Afilaka. Pic by Keith Larby.

Archant

It is one of the most difficult jobs in the NHS, but Caroline Taylor has taken on the role of administrator of the failed South London Healthcare Trust (SLHT) on a salary of £165,000-a-year.

The trust, for the time being, encompasses Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, the Princess Royal in Farnborough, Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich and Orpington Hospital.

She will become implementation director when it dissolves on October 1 this year – Queen Mary’s services will be run by Oxleas and Dartford and Gravesham NHS trusts.

We asked her about the challenge she is facing, the future of Queen Mary’s and the questionable financial history of her former employer NHS Croydon.

South London Healthcare Trust fact box

Overall debt - £207 million.

Formed on April 1, 2009.

The A&E and maternity department at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup closed down in late 2010.

90.6 per cent - number of patients in February, the most recent figures published, who were seen within four hours of arrival at the two A&E units. The target is 95 per cent.

n What do you think is the biggest task in your new role?

Reducing hospital waiting times. We have not been meeting our four-hour waiting times, although we have been improving in the last few months. Patient care is the most important thing for me and we need to find ways to meet these waiting times. It’s not just about targets.

We need to assess if people really need to be in A&E, the availability of beds and how good we are at planning patients’ discharges.

n Will this be difficult to achieve if the judicial review to save Lewisham’s A&E is not successful?

If Lewisham A&E does close down, it won’t be for a couple of years yet. There will be plenty of time to assess how this will affect us, but I don’t think the other sites will be overstretched, despite the extra volume of people they will be taking on.

The judicial review shouldn’t delay what happens with everything else and we’re still in discussions with Oxleas over Queen Mary’s and King’s [King’s Health Partners, which runs King’s College Hospital] over the Princess Royal. October 1 is still a realistic date for the dissolution of the trust.

n Bexley residents think they have received the poor end of the deal by losing their A&E and maternity wards. Is this fair, especially considering the number of elderly people in the borough?

Queen Mary’s losing those services was about quality of service, not the debt. It’s good for the people of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich that there are fewer facilities, but better facilities.

There’s a lot of evidence that shows that better facilities save lives. It’s worth travelling a little further for better care. The A Picture of Health public consultation was looking at closing an A&E before SLHT was formed. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made.

n Is Queen Mary’s sustainable as a hospital?

I’m confident Queen Mary’s will still thrive. I understand local people are disappointed about losing their A&E and maternity wards, but the urgent care centre will be good at a lot of other things. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback and people can still go there for day surgery, outpatients and diagnostics.

It’s important that people in Bexley can still receive all but emergency care in the community they live in and we’ll be working with the clinical commissioning group and council to achieve that.

n Will staff lose their jobs after the trust is dissolved?

Since previous administrator Matthew Kershaw announced it would be dissolved, some people have taken voluntary redundancy. At the start of October there will be a small number of compulsory redundancies across the sites but we can’t be sure of numbers. We’ll do our best to keep good staff.

n How will you ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated?

I like to look at them as problems rather than mistakes. The main thing is that the trust was not sustainable and the debt will be completely written off when the trust dissolves, which will give all the sites a fresh start.

SLHT failed for a whole number of reasons. There are now better financial controls in place which will stop the same problems being repeated down the line.

n Due to the financial mismanagement of SLHT, can you explain what went on during your time with NHS Croydon?

(When Mrs Taylor was chief executive, the organisation said it had a £5.million surplus in the financial year 2010-11, when in fact there was a £22.4m deficit. She refused to answer questions in front of a joint overview and scrutiny committee, which criticised her and other senior managers.)

I don’t believe I have any more questions to answer. I disagree with the findings of the committee and I was interviewed by an independent investigation a year ago and told them everything they wanted to know. I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong and this will not affect the work I do in this role.

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