Chance of last-ditch talks to salvage Northumberland social care deal looks slim

It will take ‘something exceptionally significant’ to break off a looming ‘divorce’ between local authority and hospital chiefs in Northumberland.

Friday, 13th August 2021, 12:28 pm
'Divorce' proceedings between Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHCFT), which runs The Northumbria hospital, left, and Northumberland County Council, based at County Hall, Morpeth, right, over social care services are at an advanced stage.

Earlier this year, bosses at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHCFT) served notice on Northumberland County Council (NCC) of their intention to terminate a 10-year-old deal to provide social care services.

But despite a last-minute thaw in relations, which saw the trust’s chairman extend an olive branch offering to restart stalled talks, the partnership between the two is expected to be wound up at the end of September unless the deadlock can be broken.

Glen Sanderson, the leader of NCC, said: “Quite a lot of water has gone under the bridge since this first raised its head and I’m not prepared to waste any more time – as it would be, if we started a whole range of negotiations again.

“The political direction is quite clear, we want to get this resolved quickly, we want to make sure our patients are looked after properly and quickly and safely.”

He added: “I’m quite prepared to talk, but there will have to be something exceptionally significant to make the course we’re on be changed.”

The current deal, signed in 2011, saw the day-to-day running of most aspects of adult social care, including care management, community rehabilitation and specialist learning disability services, transferred to NHFT.

A review of the partnership in 2020 reportedly ‘proved challenging’ due to the coronavirus pandemic, but also because of ‘significant differences’ over workforce, governance and accountability.

The council proposed a new model for the integration of community-based health and care services for people with long-term disabling health conditions. This would have had separate governance arrangements, which might have involved additional NHS partners such as primary care and mental health services, to support closer integration with key health services outside the Trust.

In February, the trust told the county council it planned to walk away from negotiations, with the existing partnership arrangement scheduled to end on September 30.

After that, services, including about 600 staff, will be transferred to NCC, unless the deadlock can be broken in the meantime.

“[We are] willing to pause and reflect and really sit back around the table,” said Claire Riley, NHCFT’s executive director of communications and corporate affairs.

“We have the meeting to do exactly that, but I think realistically we have to look to move forward.

“Our strength over many years has been our collective partnership and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.”

Earlier in the week, following the announcement by trust chairman Alan Richardson that his organisation was prepared to resume talks, the situation was compared to a divorce ‘where both sides are saying it’s not them that wants to get divorced’.

Speaking to NCC’s Health and Wellbeing Board, Coun Richard Dodd said: “[We had to] virtually beg the trust to reconsider and now they’re back. I don’t know why they’re back and there must be a million reasons why they’re back wanting this contract and I want to get to the bottom of it.”

James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service