A BLACK alert has been declared at the troubled Royal Cornwall Hospital as it struggles to cope with demand in the run up to Christmas.

The hospital at Treliske has gone onto level 4 which means it is experiencing very high demand for its services.

The hospital trust said it was taking action within the hospital, implementing its full capacity protocol, as well as working in the wider community to respond to the situation.

The alert come months after the hospital was put into special measures for failings in its surgery, maternity and end of life care and as the trust launches plans for an Accountable Care System (ACS), it says, to address the changing needs of local communities. Critics have said it is all part of the creeping privatisation of the NHS.

The trust says: "The NHS and local government in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are agreed that the way services are currently commissioned and provided won’t address the changing the needs of their local communities. Doing more of the same is financially unsustainable and will not guarantee that quality and safety of care will improve.

"All agree that the approach needs to change. Our combined view is that we need to work together as an Accountable Care System (ACS) to enable more integrated care that serves the needs of the whole population.

"An ACS does not change each organisation’s statutory and legal responsibilities. Instead it describes a way of working together that allows for a one strategy, one budget and one plan approach which puts the person not the organisation first.

As well as being in agreement about the approach, all are signed up to making progress and testing out the practicalities by working in shadow form during 2018/2019."

The shadow ACS will operate within the existing statutory framework which means that the Councils, NHS England, the CCG and NHS provider trusts will remain the statutory accountable bodies in the system.

Work will be supported by an accord which describes the principles of collaboration agreed by all partners involved in the ACS.

The trust says the ACS is needed because, like many other areas across the country, local health and care services are facing a number of challenges – people are living longer, an increasing number of people have multiple, long-term conditions, and when people do need care, they receive it a variety of different ways – in hospitals, from their GPs and primary care staff, in clinics, nursing homes and from home care agencies.

Recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) reports into local health and social care have made it clear that services are not sufficiently or consistently meeting people’s needs. It found that:

The quality and safety of care services is not consistently good enough

Patients described their experiences of receiving care as not always good – although they generally had a more positive experience of services provided by their GP surgery

People often had poor experiences of moving out of hospital and to a care home or back home with social care support – they described coming up against a lack of choice, poor information sharing between organisations and a lack of home care packages

Patients who were discharged from hospital and needing ongoing support, found the arrangements to try to help them confusing, despite the efforts of frontline staff and care teams.

What is being planned and what is the timescale?

We recognise some people are concerned by this proposal but this is not about privatising the NHS. An accountable care system simply means that the overall health and care system works better together in the interests of patients and the wider community.

There is no single model for accountable care systems in England, with different local areas developing their own approaches. We want to work with individuals and organisations to develop a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly model which both co-ordinates care across the whole health and social care system and improves the health and wellbeing of the wider population.

It is proposed that the local shadow ACS will be made up of:

A small, Integrated Strategic Commissioning Function for health, care and wellbeing services

One or more Accountable Care Partnerships (ACP), where groups of providers work together as a single network, taking collective responsibility for the effectiveness of service provision, with the ability to design new ways of working and move the money round the system to deliver more joined up, better coordinated and more efficient care.

The trust says a guiding principle of the work to develop an Accountable Care System is to be open and transparent and to allow for debate and discussion about proposals as plans progress.

There will be a series of three inquiry days in December and January to learn from other areas that are setting up Accountable Care systems and draw up recommendations on the way forward. These sessions will be open to the public and will be led by a panel of five Cornwall Councillors, chaired by Andy Virr.

The purpose of the inquiry days is to hear from representatives of local health and care organisations and from those areas developing an ACS, NHS England and patient groups such as Healthwatch.

At the end of the inquiry days, the councillor panel will draw up recommendations specifically about the development of the integrated strategic commissioning function of the ACS. These will then be considered at an extraordinary meeting of the Health and Adult Overview and Scrutiny Committee at the end of January, with a report being presented to the Council’s Cabinet in February, followed by full council. The recommendations will also be discussed by the Kernow CCG Governing Body.

Chief Executive Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust and Shaping Our Future Executive Lead, Kathy Byrne said:

“We are increasingly working together across organisations to provide services. Collaboration between Royal Cornwall Hospitals, Cornwall Foundation Trust and local GPs will improve our urgent care system this winter. We know that we have a way to go before we can offer the outstanding care we all aspire to. Health and care leaders are united in the view that we need to go further and faster to bring our health and care system closer together with the person at the centre. By April 2018, we aim to be working like an Accountable Care Partnership that brings services together in a way that can make a real difference to people’s care and more reliably meets the changing needs of our community over the years to come.

“Alongside proposals for greater devolution of health and care powers to Cornwall, we are determined to take more control of our local resources, simplify decision making and become more accountable to the people we serve. Together, we share a commitment to create a health and care system fit for the 21st century and radically improve the independence and wellbeing of all those who live in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Cabinet portfolio holder for Adults Rob Rotchell said: “Delivering an accountable care partnership is about what it says on the tin – working in partnership to deliver better joined up services and making sure that people are at the centre of what we do. I understand there is some fear and concern, but we will be open about the way we work together. The shadow ACS will operate within the existing statutory framework – the Council, NHS England, the CCG and provider trusts will remain the statutory accountable bodies in the system.

“There are many different models for accountable care partnerships, which is why we are holding these inquiry days to find out more about the strengths and pitfalls of different approaches. There is no blueprint on how to do this.

“The inquiry sessions will be open to the public and there is no hidden agenda – this is fully transparent. The inquiry will make a recommendation to Cabinet and then full Council.”

Cornwall's biggest hospital has gone back onto the highest possible alert, with just over a week to go until Christmas.

Bosses have confirmed Treliske is now at Level Four, which was previously known as 'Black Alert' and means the hospital is experiencing very high demand.

Friday's alert means it has reached Level Four 100 times in the last year, and it comes just a couple of months after the trust in charge of the Royal Cornwall Hospital was put into special measures.

Inspectors uncovered a catalogue of failings and Treliske was rated inadequate for surgery, maternity and end of life care.

The watchdog found patients died and others went blind while waiting for treatment and you can read more here.

In relation to the current alert, Treliske is urging patients not to turn up at A&E unless it is an absolute emergency.