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NHS bosses accussed of 'bullying' on 18-week target

By Nigel Praities

A row over the effect of NHS targets on patient care has blown up after the head of a hospital trust resigned and accussed NHS bosses of valuing tick-boxes above patient safety.

Former chairman of United Lincolnshire Healthcare Trust, David Bowles, said NHS bosses refused to allow any leeway on the 18 week referral target despite 'unprecedented' levels of emergency services threatening patient care.

East Midlands SHA hit back, saying they had ‘serious concerns' over the management of United Lincolnshire Healthcare Trust and had suspended Mr Bowles pending an investigation.

Mr Bowles – in a letter forwarded to the Conservative Party – said East Midlands SHA had placed ‘unacceptable pressures' on the Trust to meet the 18 week target and he hoped his resignation would cause change.

He said: ‘I refuse to work in a system which seems not to have learnt the lessons of Mid-Staffordshire and to have lost sight of the critical issues of patient safety; a system which places unacceptable pressures on the Trust, to give an unequivocal assurance that it will meet is 18 week non-emergency care target at a time of unprecedented levels of emergency demand.

‘Mindful of patients and my personal responsibilities for safety I can not continue to be involved in the NHS where it seems to me that bullying from outside of the Trust is simply met with a shrug of the shoulders and "well that's the NHS,"' he said.

Sir John Brigstocke, chairman of East Midlands SHA, defended their actions, saying they had been monitoring the hospital trust and had decided to suspend Mr Bowles after concerns over governance procedures were raised.

‘[David Bowles] was suspended because the SHA had serious concerns about the governance at United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust.

‘Our aim therefore - was quite the reverse of what Mr Bowles suggests - is to ensure we did we did not have a situation, now or at any time in the future, which puts patients at risk of not getting all the high standards of care they deserve,' he said.

Conservative health minister Mark Simmonds said the case showed the Government's ‘obsession' with targets had overridden patient care in the NHS.

‘It is not acceptable that the chairman of this hospital trust has been forced to resign due to a culture of both bullying and apparent disregard for patient safety from bureaucrats,' he said.

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