Questions remain amid fears of merger at Blackpool Victoria Hospital after appointment of new boss

Blackpool Victoria Hospital chiefs said appointing a shared chief executive with another Lancashire hospital trust was not the start of a merger, despite MPs' concerns.
Blackpool Victoria Hospital chiefs said appointing a shared chief executive with another Lancashire hospital trust was not the start of a merger, despite MPs' concerns.
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Bosses at Blackpool Victoria Hospital have been urged to heed MPs’ warnings over a potential merger of trusts by health minister Edward Argar.

The trust that runs the hospital was the subject of a Parliamentary debate, with questions over the controversial appointment of its new chief executive.

Kevin McGee was named joint chief executive at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals and East Lancashire Hospitals in a process that has been criticised by one governor – who said they were never consulted over plans for collaboration between the two.

But bosses at the Vic have denied the move is a precursor to a merger of the two trusts, despite ongoing concerns voiced by local MPs.

Last week’s Commons debate, which also covered the recent critical CQC report that branded the Vic inadequate, saw Fylde MP Mark Menzies tell chiefs: “My patience has worn out.”

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden, who secured the debate, said Mr McGee’s appointment proved lessons had not been learned from the backlash after current trust chairman Pearse Butler was appointed.

Back in June 2018, then-health minister Stephen Barclay said there had been “clear irregularities” with Mr Butler’s appointment that should not be repeated.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Marsden, inset, said Mr Butler, who oversaw the appointment of the new chief executive, “seemed to have learned nothing from the failings... in his own appointment”.

He described the process as “rushed”, yet said talks about a potential merger had been held months before Mr McGee was handed the job on a permanent basis earlier this month.

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals has said the move was “not the start of a merger”.

Mr Argar had previously said, in response to a parliamentary question from Mr Marsden, that both trusts had asked for the views of NHS England and NHS Improvement “on the possibility of merging services and provision between the two Trusts”.

However, the Department of Health and Social Care has since said that was not true, blaming an "administrative error". It confirmed the questions related solely to the appointment of a joint chief executive.

On November 8, following the original publication of this article, it added: "These conversations did not involve discussion around merging services or provision.”

During the debate, Mr Argar said the current set-up was designed to improve care and financial sustainability at both trusts – and praised Mr McGee’s “strong track record” – but said he hoped bosses would listen to local MPs’ “clear” opposition to any future merger.

He added: “I believe that the trust is learning from its mistakes and that the current chief executive is determined to tackle the quality issues and bring improvements to patient care. It must be given the space to do that.”

A Blackpool Teaching Hospitals spokesman said: “The Trust notes Mr Marsden’s comments and are happy to discuss all his concerns. Indeed, we are actively seeking to meet him and the other local elected representatives.

"We want to share our plans for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Trust, which remains a statutory organisation with its own board of directors and council of governors. This is an improvement partnership that will see both trusts learn from each other. It is not a merger.

“Mr McGee and his new leadership team are determined to work with the Trust’s fantastic staff and key local stakeholders to deliver the improvements in care the people of the Fylde coast need and deserve.’’