Leaders of an acute trust have said they have had to battle a perception from doctors that it is ‘a tough place to come’ to, while also trying to negate the reputation of the town it operates in.
Speaking at a board meeting in March, The Rotherham Foundation Trust’s guardian of safe working, Gerry Lynch, said: “I think there is a perception that Rotherham is a tough place to come, both from the consultant point of view and from the trainee point of view.”
In an interview with HSJ since the meeting, Dr Lynch said the comment had been “to some degree, historic”, adding: “It’s not a secret. I think that Rotherham has, in the past, sometimes struggled to attract to substantive posts in the way it would like.”
In the General Medical Council’s annual survey of trainee doctors in 2021, the trust had the third worst score of the 13 acute providers in Yorkshire and Humber for “overall satisfaction”.
Meanwhile, the trust’s medical director, Callum Gardner, said the trust had also suffered from the child sexual abuse scandals in Rotherham, which had tarnished the town’s reputation.
Rotherham was at the centre of a high-profile care scandal that saw an estimated 1,400 children sexually abused over 16 years. A 2014 independent inquiry found evidence of “blatant” failures at the local authority and criticised the police for failing to act on credible reports of abuse.
Dr Gardner said: “Rotherham as a whole has had a battering and bruising over the years with child sexual abuse and all these horrific things that have gone in the past that have affected the reputation of Rotherham – and the trust is part of that.
“Equally we had a lot of instability for quite a few years around senior leadership, particularly around clinical leadership [and] a lot of turnover on board level colleagues…when I arrived back in, four years come September, some of my colleagues have had eight medical directors, and in the time they’ve been in the organisation, similar turnover of other directors.”
But, in the last two years, the trust has had a “really good degree of stability” at the senior level, Dr Gardner said, with substantive appointments to key roles and a shared chief executive with neighbouring Barnsley Hospital FT.
He added: “In terms of where we are, with the stability of that leadership, now, where we are – covid notwithstanding – with how clinicians and staff in general are feeling in terms of the organisation listening to them, I think we’re in a much better place.”
The proportion of the trust’s staff who said they would recommend it as a place to work improved by 11 percentage points between 2016 and 2020 to 63 per cent, although this fell by nine points in 2021, according to this year’s NHS staff survey results.
Dr Gardner said the trust had been successful in recruiting to key specialities that had been “pinch points” in the past, including stroke and gastroenterology, where the trust has made joint appointments with Barnsley.
“By and large, all of these specialties that were the challenges are in a much better position…We’ve got something like 15 more headcount substantive consultants now than when I arrived,” he says.
”I think, yes, it is difficult on the wards, but I don’t think we’re unique to anyone else within the region, or indeed nationally, recruitment-wise…But can I confidently say that we have always got as many staff as I would like we need? Absolutely not. And you know, I don’t think you’ll find any executive director in an NHS organisation at the moment that would say ‘yes, they do’.”