United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust in ‘better position’, says outgoing chief executive

United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust is in a “better position” now than three years ago, according to the organisation’s outgoing chief executive.

Jan Sobieraj said he felt the trust was in better shape, despite it still being in quality and financial special measures.

Mr Sobieraj is set to retire at the end of the month after overseeing the trust for the last three and a half years.

Andrew Morgan, currently chief executive at Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust, will take over from him in an interim role.

Mr Sobieraj, who held senior roles in Barnsley, Sheffield and the Department for Health before coming to Lincolnshire, said he felt ULHT now had a “way forward”.

“I’m absolutely sure it’s in a better position,” he said.

“When I came in, we didn’t have a strategy across Lincolnshire and we have now got that and I’m pleased that last week the board signed off on our five-year and clinical strategy.

“We’ve got a way forward and a future.”

He added that “hoped” the trust would be able to come out of financial and quality special measures.

Since taking over as chief executive, Mr Sobieraj has overseen a trust which has been hit with a number of challenges, including staffing shortages and finances.

ULHT is currently in financial and quality special measures and has suffered from staffing shortages which have led to reviews of services.

The trust has also had to tackle overspends in its finances and last year managed to meet its £88.2 million deficit plan.

A new target of £70.3 million, as well as a savings plan of £25 million, has been agreed by trust bosses with regulator NHS Improvement for the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the organisation is currently ranked as “requires improvement” by health inspectors, but Mr Sobieraj said he is “confident” that CQC officials will see a better position next time around.

“We have to remember that being in special measures is not the end of the world,” he said.

“What it means is that we have a special case and circumstances. It does mean extra regulatory review, but also means support.

“I think it many ways it recognises that challenges that you have in a rural environment like Lincolnshire.”

The trust also struggles with waiting times and has not met its target for accident and emergency for half a decade.

Elsewhere, ULHT has not hit its targets for either cancer treatment or for patients waiting less than 18 weeks for a planned operation or non-emergency treatment.

Mr Sobieraj said the trust was “very conscious” of the waiting times for cancer care.

“That is a struggle for us as an organisation and a challenge,” he said.

In August 2016, trust bosses made the decision to close Grantham Hospital’s accident and emergency department overnight.

ULHT said the move was “temporary”, but it proved controversial and campaigners called for a return to a 24-hour emergency unit.

Campaign groups have since said a “solution” is needed for the department, which saw increased demand during the winter.

Mr Sobieraj said he “completely understands” the concern that the decision caused.

“It was a really difficult decision,” he said.

“It was done so in the interests of patients across Lincolnshire and, while I completely understand the concerns of the public, I think we handled it in the best way we could.

“We were very honest and frank with our patients and even though they didn’t like the answers, we tried to explain why it happened.”

Since the decision, it was revealed that an urgent treatment centre could be placed on the site after discussions as part of the Healthy Conversations 2019.

The move would be “sustainable”, said Mr Sobieraj, and would benefit patients.

“For many, it would mean no change at all,” he said.

“For most patients, they will still walk in through the same front door and be seen probably by the same groups of staff.”

Mr Sobieraj will leave the trust on June 30, paving the way for the new interim CEO to take over.

Among the list of achievements, he has included an improvement in mortality rates and an investment in fire safety at the trust’s hospital sites.

Trust bosses announced the £46 million measures back in May 2018 and said it would help to “reassure” patients.

The sum is being spent on improving fire safety at the Boston, Lincoln and Grantham hospitals, including upgrades to fire doors.

Mr Sobieraj felt the investment was a “tremendous achievement”.

“The trust had a problem with fire safety and part of that was lack of access to money,” he said.

“But we managed to find £46 million from the national coffers and that’s been coming in over the last couple of years.”

As for the future, Mr Sobieraj feels technology will be part of the solution to tackling an ageing population and the problems it brings.

Part of this will include treating people at home, rather than in an emergency department if it is not necessary.

“We have find a way through technology to support people in their own homes,” he said.

“But, of course that means better broadband and access to training skills and support.”

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