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Saturday, 26 July 2014

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Bosses told date inspectors will re-visit north Cumbrian hospitals

Questions have been raised as to why bosses at failing hospitals are being given two months’ notice to clean up their act before inspectors swoop in.

John Stevenson photo
John Stevenson

Management at Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary and the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven have already been told when they will be inspected “in-depth” in a series of visits, some of which are supposed to be unannounced.

It recently emerged that a new round of inspections, following the damning Keogh review which plunged both into special measures, will take place.

Executives at the North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospitals, have already been told theirs will take place on April 29.

There’s now some concern that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is giving hospitals too much notice about when officers will swoop on troubled hospitals – possibly not giving inspectors the best picture about the day-to-day reality of care and work in them.

A health service insider said: “All consultants, managers and team leaders were told about the visit in the middle of February – and told to be prepared.

“It’s strange as I thought they were all meant to be unannounced.”

The preparation time means hospital bosses have even sent out examples of previous CQC hospital inspections for guidance on the areas being assessed.

Carlisle MP John Stevenson said: “This is a new regime that has just been set up so they are probably feeling their way.

“However, giving organisations long lead-in times to put something right does seem questionable; shorter times will have far more impact and they will see how an organisation is really coping.”

The new inspection regime was introduced in the wake of the scathing Keogh review which looked at higher-than-expected death rates at 14 hospital trusts.

Published last July, it painted a concerning picture and led to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt placing 11 of the trusts – including north Cumbria – into special measures.

The new way of inspecting hospitals is modelled on the Ofsted way of examining schools and will see trusts receive an overall rating of outstanding, good, requires improvement or poor.

Each main service, such as maternity and accident and emergency, will also be rated in the same way, providing performance information at service and trust-level.

The inspections will be made up of announced and unannounced inspections.

A spokeswoman for the CQC said: “Trusts are made aware of the start inspection date, however, they are not informed of the specific areas we intend to focus on and we may choose to follow up unannounced a week or two weeks later should we feel it is required.

“It is not about catching trusts out but about understanding their processes and helping them to improve in any areas where there is scope to do so.”

At least 20 inspectors are expected to be involved in the north Cumbria inspection, including doctors, nurses and other experts and trained members of the public.

They will conduct a “thorough in-depth review” including a site visit, listening event to collect views of the public, and several staff focus groups.

Mr Stevenson said: “The longer you give I do tend to think the less effective it is likely to be – it is not necessarily showing a hospital being run as it is at that time.”

He did welcome the inspections though, insisting the Keogh review and subsequent changes to the way hospitals are assessed can only be a good thing as they expose weaknesses within the NHS which can be built upon.

A trust board meeting set to take place on Tuesday, April 29 will be rescheduled.

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