Cornwall's health system 'simply not good enough'
Cornwall's health system has been put on the critical list as a damning report on the county's out-of-hours GP service has once again thrust it into the spotlight.
According to a financial watchdog, the service provided by private firm Serco simply failed to deliver national quality requirements.
The report was published as it emerged the region's hospitals were struggling to cope with a combination of bed-blocking, increased admissions and the highly infectious winter vomiting bug norovirus.
The Royal Cornwall Hospital, which had been running a "major incident" since last Thursday, downgraded the status yesterday afternoon. Derriford Hospital in Plymouth also had a "black alert" – the highest possible – on Monday. As pressures eased, that was moved down to "red" alert, a status also in place at Torbay Hospital in South Devon.
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Andrew George, St Ives MP and member of the Health Select Committee, summed up the feelings of many: "It is not good enough."
The National Audit Office, which scrutinises public spending, was called in to investigate Serco after concerns were raised about staffing and allegations concerning "cooking the books" to make the service look as though it was performing to standard.
The NAO also examined whether whistleblowers were adequately protected.
The report will make uncomfortable reading, not just for Serco but also for NHS Cornwall, the primary care trust (PCT) which actually awarded Serco the contract and monitors performance.
Margaret Hodge, chairman of the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, said she was "shocked."
She said: "It is simply not good enough that neither Serco nor the PCT detected these problems."
The NAO report will beg serious questions for NHS Kernow, the GP-led clinical commissioning group which from next month will take over the vital job of purchasing healthcare on behalf of residents.