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Report uncovers blunders at the heart of Trust debts

PUBLISHED: 18:13 01 October 2008 | UPDATED: 11:37 12 August 2010

New chief: Mike Marchment

New chief: Mike Marchment

A CATALOGUE of errors has led to a hospital trust becoming saddled with £101 million worth of debt, according to a damning report. An independent investigation into Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust uncovered a trail of vague finance reports, casual management

A CATALOGUE of errors has led to a hospital trust becoming saddled with £101 million worth of debt, according to a damning report.

An independent investigation into Bromley Hospitals NHS Trust uncovered a trail of vague finance reports, casual management and soured relations with Bromley PCT, last Wednesday.

Investigator Michael Taylor was asked to probe the Trust last December after accumulated debts rose from £34million in 2005 to £101 million this year.

Last year, the Trust was listed by the Department of Health among its 17 most financially challenged trusts and this year it expects to make a loss of at least £9 million.

The report slammed the pre-2007 Trust board, led by John Watkinson, for optimistic assumptions, reliance on serial cash-borrowing and permitting vague accounting.

In his report, Mr Taylor said: "The financial reports provided to the Trust Board lacked key information and were full of assumptions rather than detailed forecasts."

At a presentation of the report on Tuesday, Mr Taylor said: "There was a serious failure in the stewardship of taxpayers' money by the Trust board.

"There was no mystery for me to resolve. The former leaders did not accept they had a problem.

"Many of the senior clinicians and managers I met could not understand how they had been so gullible whilst others thought they must have been misled."

But he said the Strategic Health Authority had been too lax in overseeing the Trust and allowing the "imaginative" accounting.

The report involved digging up old documents, former employees' emails and confidential interviews with past and present staff.

It has prompted Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust to launch an investigation into Mr Watkinson, who is currently its chief executive.

But the former chief executive was praised by staff for his passion.

However, he upset some by being 'informal' while some of his directors, notably Estates & Facilities Director Trevor Wills, acted 'immaturely' by using the Trust email to circulate an inappropriate moving cartoon.

Most of the board members mentioned in the report have moved on since, but the Trust still received the lowest score possible in the Audit Commission's latest study of NHS trusts' finances, released on Tuesday. In announcing the Taylor report at the Trust board meeting last Wednesday, chairman Huw Alderman made an apology for the past poor management.

He said: "I apologise formally for the past governance and management failures within the trust."

Bromley Hospitals' current chief executive, Michael Marchment, noted at the meeting that he was worried by the "churn" of board members.

He then suggested that his staff's confidence in the Trust was being undermined by a possible investigation of the recent A Picture of Health consultation.

Councillors from Bexley, Bromley, Lewisham and Greenwich are expected to urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the 'unfair' consultation, which could cause further disruption to services.

The £1,300-a-day manager said: "We now ask the local authorities to please, please get their letter of referral in to the Secretary of State as soon as possible."

To see the Taylor report visit http://www.bromleyhospitals.nhs.uk/trust/news/governance-and-financial-management/.

jules.cooper@archant.co.uk

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