Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which has been named the worst mental health trust in the country, spent over £800,000 on public relations consultants in a year. The trust had received an ‘inadequate’ rating from the Care Quality Commission four times in six years before seeking advice from a PR firm. Following the involvement of the PR firm, the watchdog stated that the trust had made significant improvements, leading to questions about what had occurred behind the scenes. Clive Lewis, a Labour MP, expressed shock at the cost and raised concerns about how the money had been spent.
The trust appointed PR consultants Hood & Woolf in September of the previous year, ahead of a new CQC inspection. The firm was paid at least £814,752 during this period. It is worth noting that an independent review by Grant Thornton auditors had found that the trust had lost track of patient deaths. The report on the deaths was criticized for being watered down to protect the trust’s bosses. The leaked draft version of the report described the trust’s governance as weak and inadequate, but these terms were changed in the final version. The trust and the auditors claimed that the changes were made as a result of fact-checking. In September, the trust experienced further upheaval when its chief executive announced his departure.
Hood & Woolf, a crisis management and change program support firm, denied any involvement in the review process. A source familiar with the trust described the amount paid to the PR firm as shocking and criticized the unethical and unnecessary use of public money. Peter Passingham of public sector union Unison suggested that the funds could have been better spent on clinical staff. The deputy chief executive of the trust defended the decision to hire the PR firm, stating that they provided much-needed support during a time of crisis.
The agreement with Hood & Woolf has now ended, and they are no longer working with the trust. The director of the firm emphasized that their work was not in opposition to providing good care to patients but rather aimed to support NHS colleagues in running the necessary services. The CQC defended its assessments of the trust, stating that they were based on multiple evidence sources. Other NHS services, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, also commissioned Hood & Woolf. The hospital, which initially received an ‘inadequate’ rating from the CQC, was upgraded and removed from special measures following another inspection. The hospital was also included in the government’s New Hospital Programme after a campaign by its leaders. The CEO of the hospital explained that the firm was hired to assist with the new hospital campaign and that the contract ended due to staffing issues.
In conclusion, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s decision to spend over £800,000 on PR consultants has raised concerns about the use of public funds. The involvement of the PR firm coincided with improvements in the trust’s rating, leading to questions about the transparency of the process. While the trust defended its decision, critics argued that the money could have been better spent on clinical staff. The agreement with Hood & Woolf has now ended, and the firm has stated that its work was aimed at supporting NHS colleagues in providing necessary services. The CQC defended its assessments, and other NHS services have also commissioned the PR firm.
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