MP speaks up for local hospital following report into Mid Staffs scandal

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06 Feb 2013

Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly has urged the government to learn the lessons from a report into the crisis at Stafford hospital by putting patient care uppermost in its tackling of a financial deficit at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire UHNS).

Mr Farrelly’s remarks, to Prime Minister David Cameron, came in a House of Commons debate following publication of the long-awaited Francis report into up to 1,200 needless deaths following mismanagement at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust in 2009.

The report, the culmination of the fifth enquiry into what happened at Stafford made a series of far-reaching recommendations for the whole of the NHS, including a new statutory duty of ‘candour’ and a renewed emphasis on the quality of care, not targets and finances.

Stafford hospital is slowly recovering, but the fallout from the crisis has affected other hospitals in the county, including UHNS, which have had to accept patients following closures of Stafford’s Accident & Emergency unit as it was unable to recruit staff.

Last month UHNS’ respected chief executive Julia Bridgewater was controversially forced out as the hospital faces a £27 million deficit from increased usage of A&E, the re-opening of 80 much-needed beds to meet demand and after problems with its payment systems.

Before Christmas, the hospital’s finance director resigned when the problems and deficit came to light.

Mrs Bridgewater was appointed in 2006 after UHNS’ last financial crisis and the surprise early departure of her predecessor Antony Sumara – a close ally of overall NHS Chief Executive Sir David Nicholson – who had been parachuted in to stabilise the situation.

Mr Sumara later returned to run Stafford hospital after its scandal was revealed in 2009.

Local health watchers blame UHNS’ current capacity problems in part on his decision back then to chop beds from the area’s £450 million new hospital project to balance the books – and on more recent re-organisations of NHS primary care deflecting attention from building up community facilities to relieve pressure on the hospital.

‘The tragic events at Stafford are having a continuing impact on UHNS, in terms of both management and care,’ Mr Farrelly told the Prime Minister. ‘The closures of A&E, for example, at Stafford have caused major strain.’

‘Our new hospital was already struggling through closure of beds, ordered a few years ago by Sir David Nicholson’s travelling troubleshooter Antony Sumara.’

‘For reasons of patient safety, to cope with the grave pressures on A&E, many of those beds were rightly re-opened by our hospital’s chief executive last year. But that, of course, has only added further to the financial problems.’

‘So I have this question for the Prime Minister. When rather distant bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Regional Health Authority play their part in responding to these pressures, will he ensure that they do so with sympathy and local understanding – and put patient safety and care at the heart of that response?’

In his statement in response to the report, Mr Cameron issued a full apology from the government to the families of those who suffered from ‘systemic failings’ at Mid Staffs.

While promising to respond in full next month, he also announced that a new post - Chief Inspector of Hospitals - would be established later this year. A new inspection regime will  issue reports based not just on statistics but also on assessments of the quality of care. .

In total the report makes 290 recommendations, including a new code of conduct for senior managers; making concealment of information about poor care a criminal offence; a single regulator for care at all hospitals; and a fresh focus on compassion in nurses’ training.

Robert Francis, the barrister who led the public inquiry into the deaths, singled out the NHS’ managerial culture, in particular, and said that it ‘put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.’

In contrast, at UHNS Mrs Bridgewater was widely praised for her approachability and ‘roll-your-sleeves-up’ management style.

Her departure was greeted with dismay by patients, hospital staff, politicians and the local media. Senior hospital consultants also held an unprecedented rally to demand that her resignation be withdrawn.

Under her leadership, the hospital massively reduced infections by the superbugs MRSA and C Difficile, while completing the £450 million newbuild project and helping Stafford in its crisis.

‘Julia has been by far the best chief executive of the hospital in the 12 years that I have been an MP.’ Mr Farrelly said on the news of her resignation last month.

‘She has been the exact opposite of some of the fly-by-nights before, whom we, staff and patients hardly ever saw. Julia always rolled her sleeves up and led by example.’

‘No hospital is ever perfect, and there are always difficult, sometimes tragic cases we have to deal with. With Julia, though, there was always an open door to discuss thorny issues and I hope her successors show the same human face that she has done.’

‘I wish her all the best for the future after serving North Staffordshire, and the new hospital, so well for over six years in this demanding, stressful role, and for many more years at the hospital before.’

The hospital has appointed Jim Birrell, who ran Liverpool’s Aintree Hospitals Foundation Trust, as interim chief executive while it recruits a replacement.

Local MPs, including Mr Farrelly, are still seeking a meeting to discuss the present situation.