New head of Queen’s and King George Hospital ready to take on challenge
14:32 01 April 2014
Matthew Hopkins describes himself as a “relentless optimist”.
It is a good starting point for the man faced with arguably the toughest job in the NHS - turning around the embattled trust behind Queen’s and King George hospitals.
Drowning in an estimated £150million debt, the trust has been put in special measures to tackle unsafe A&E units, understaffing, long waiting times and poor planning.
Meanwhile, the restructure plan meant to improve services is passionately opposed by residents and local politicians.
It is a huge task but Matthew, 47, insists he is undaunted.
“I am very much looking forward to the challenge and getting my teeth into a big organisation,” he said.
He became chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) on Tuesday following Averil Dongworth’s retirement.
After three years heading Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, in Surrey, the NHS Trust Development Authority thought he was the man for the job.
Matthew will be on secondment for the first six months, when the arrangement will be reviewed.
“They wanted somebody to continue the improvement work that Averil led and help the trust move out of special measures,” he said.
“When I joined Epsom and St Helier it had a £38m deficit and was facing the prospect of being split up.”
It now has healthy finances and is on its way to becoming a devolved foundation trust.
Matthew’s move to BHRUT was a blow to his colleagues in Surrey, who praised his work.
Trust chairman Laurence Newman said: “He has overseen some incredible improvements at Epsom and St Helier, and we are sure he can lead the team in Barking, Havering and Redbridge to do the same.”
Priority one is BHRUT’s extensive financial problems, including a yawning £33m deficit and huge spending on locum staff.
The trust must then hit set targets to come out of special measures and continue implementing a huge restructure of services.
King George Hospital’s A&E, in Goodmayes, is set to shut in late 2015 following the closure of its maternity department in March 2013.
Services are being “centralised” at different hospitals following the controversial Health for North East London review.
The plans were drawn up before the 2011 census exposed rocketing birth rates and rising population in Redbridge and surrounding boroughs but the government has confirmed the restructure will continue.
Similar plans to downgrade St Helier Hospital, closing maternity and A&E, were scrapped earlier this year but Matthew insisted the cases were very different.
The Better Services, Better Value review was “much earlier in the process” he said, and never received approval from GPs or the government.
When pressed on whether a similar reversal was possible to stop the closure of King George’s A&E, Matthew said “implementation” was the focus rather than reviewing previous decisions.
“I’m keen to make sure that our patients and local population feel their services are going to be safe and any changes are made at the right speed and the right way”, he added.
“What my experience tells me is when people feel they have got accessible services in primary care, they are more comfortable with changes to hospitals.
“I want to give a very clear message we will work with the commissioners, patients, local politicians and the community to make sure the care we provide is as good as possible.”
Matthew wants to “crack the whole system” of community care and focus on early intervention to ease the pressure on Queen’s overloaded A&E.
Some commentators have used the figures at Queen’s and other struggling hospitals to argue the NHS is breaking down completely but it Matthew is a firm believer in the national institution.
“I’m an NHS person through and through. I committed my career to it because I completely believe in the idea of public service,” he said.
“My experience with NHS care is that actually on the whole most things are done well but I do think there’s always room for improvement.”
There is certainly plenty of room at Queen’s Hospital and King George but Matthew believes it will be a very different picture in three years.
He said: “I would like to be able to say the vast majority of patients get great care every day.
“I would hope we have made some good progress on to financial performance of the organisation.
“I want the really good things about the organisation to be more visible.”