Published: 18:58, 05 March 2021
| Updated: 19:11, 05 March 2021
Furious councillors hit out at hospital bosses after a scheduling clash meant senior managers could not attend to discuss a damning inspection by the health watchdog.
Members of the health and overview scrutiny committee (HOSC) at Kent County Council were angered when a written report was presented by the Medway NHS Foundation Trust.
The trust was unable to attend as yesterday's HOSC meeting fell on the same day as the trust's statutory board meeting, chief executive James Devine confirmed to KentOnline.
He said this had been agreed in advance with the council as colleagues were involved in preparing for the trust board meeting later the same day, which is a legal requirement.
But that message appeared to have eluded councillors who expressed their anger at being unable to discuss the outcome of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) visit to Medway Maritime Hospital in December with the trust.
Inspectors were critical of the hospital's emergency department rating the service as inadequate – downgrading it to the lowest rating – amid concerns about waiting times and patient safety.
The CQC has issued a formal warning notice to the hospital and demanded "significant improvements".
The scrutiny committee will not meet again until June as the council enters purdah ahead of the May elections.
Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con, Swale East) said: "I must express a degree of disappointment that we've only got a written paper and not a representative of the trust to speak to it.
"I think it's disrespectful of this committee and the county council as the elected representatives of the people of Kent.
"We have a responsibility to demand answers and this is not a satisfactory way to go about it."
Committee chairman Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con, Ashford Central) told the meeting, held virtually, the trust was holding "some sort of management day" and could not attend.
This led to concerns with Gravesham councillor Shane Mochrie-Cox (Lab) describing it as "disgraceful" that an "away day" had taken precedence over the scrutiny meeting.
Cllr Karen Constantine, Labour member for Ramsgate, said: "The report is very concerning and indicates there's a risk to the general public and we're the body that it supposed to scrutinise these details.
"Shane [Mochrie-Cox] is right that it is a disgraceful set of affairs we can't get someone to speak to this.
"It's really not satisfactory to say 'sorry, nobody is available today'. We only meet on a regular set basis and this should dealt with in depth and properly, it's risk to the general public."
Committee vice chairman Ken Pugh (Con) said: "I would entirely agree because I had a few comments coming out of the report when I read it.
"I'm quite upset that nobody's coming to be here to answer those questions."
Cllr Sarah Hamilton (Con, Tunbridge Wells Rural) said: "Of course we need to scrutinise this and we have the paper.
"I share colleagues concerns but I think we have to bear in mind there's possibly a very good reason why someone wasn't available and recognise the pressures they've been under during these times."
Mr Devine confirmed to KentOnline senior trust managers were tied up with their statutory board meeting.
Executive members of the trust board were meeting at the same time as councillors met in preparation for the public meeting the NHS was hosting later in the day.
Mr Devine said: "We take the findings of the CQC report very seriously, and expect, and welcome, scrutiny from our partners.
"The Trust regularly attends the HOSC to provide updates about the hospital’s progress and welcomes feedback from the committee.
"On this occasion we were given the option of presenting a written paper instead as the meeting coincided with our statutory Board meeting, and this was agreed in advance.
"We will be happy to respond to councillors’ questions at the earliest opportunity.”
Cllr Bartlett said he would write to the trust expressing the committee's disappointment and invited them to attend the next meeting on June 8.
He said: "We'll ask them to attend and present what plan they have in order to deal with this difficult notice."