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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

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Consultant quits, calls for north Cumbria hospitals takeover to be stopped

A senior consultant who has quit his job at Carlisle’s troubled Cumberland Infirmary is calling for an independent investigation into its pending takeover.

Guy Broome photo
Guy Broome

Guy Broome is questioning the motives of incoming trust Northumbria Healthcare, wants to see it stopped and other options explored.

After 22 years at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, Mr Broome, who is co-chairman of its Medical Staff Committee, claims his workload has been stripped back since new bosses took over.

He said he is now doing just 15 per cent of the operations he did prior to Northumbria coming in and claims specialist links to experts in Newcastle have been severed.

Mr Broome, whose resignation takes effect from July 31, claims most of his patients are now being sent to Northumbria and says several other consultants have also quit.

But bosses stress they have had to make changes to improve standards and safety.

Northumbria is currently North Cumbria’s buddy trust, helping the hospitals get out of special measures with a view to acquiring them permanently.

It was chosen in February 2012 following a bidding process, which saw it compete against a joint proposal from Newcastle Hospitals and the Cumbria Partnership.

At the time 94 per cent of consultants voted in favour of Northumbria – but Mr Broome says in hindsight he believes they got it wrong.

The 55-year-old, who stresses he would stay on if the takeover was reviewed, said they were taken in by Northumbria’s promises to retain services and links to Newcastle – but claims they have not delivered.

He said: “My personal practice worked extremely well until Northumbria came in. They said ‘we do not want to work with Newcastle, we want to appoint our own surgeons’.

“When I first heard that I said ‘no, it’s a good system, it’s been working well for over 20 years, please don’t stop it’. I’ve got into endless arguments. I became quite depressed.

“The ethos from Newcastle has always been to maximise what we can do in Carlisle and Whitehaven and only make patients travel if there’s a definite need. The Northumbria ethos is to stop work being done in Cumbria and draw it into Hexham, Wansbeck etc because it makes them money.”

Northumbria Healthcare has denied the claims, highlighting figures showing the number of orthopedic operations in North Cumbria has increased 11 per cent in the last year.

But Mr Broome said his current post, doing small amounts of day surgery instead of the specialist or emergency operations he was employed to do, is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

He added: “I want to see an independent inquiry to look at the whole model of how hospitals work between North Cumbria, Northumbria and Newcastle. We should be working for patients’ interests rather than empire building.

“It is still salvageable but it needs something to happen quickly. It needs the acquisition to be immediately reversed.”

But David MacKay, North Cumbria’s clinical director for orthopaedics, insisted changes have been made purely to improve services.

“The figures speak for themselves with mortality rates now within the expected range and other performance figures showing promising signs of improvement,” he said.

“These improvements could only have been made through changes to historical practice. For example, a cancer review team made clear it was unacceptable for orthopaedic surgeons to undertake complex skin cancer operations. Changes were therefore made which directly impacted on Mr Broome’s ability to undertake skin cancer procedures.”

He added that some patients have been treated in the north east, but only to ease the waiting list backlog here.

“The improvements that have been made to date could not have been achieved without the support from Northumbria Healthcare. We will not be derailed from our improvement journey and will continue to work with all partners, including Newcastle Hospitals, to ensure the very best quality of care and outcomes.”

Jim Mackey, chief executive at Northumbria, added: “Although we have not yet acquired North Cumbria’s hospitals, we remain fully committed to this process.

“In our buddy role, we have focused on ensuring patients are treated appropriately and in a timely fashion which has previously not been the case. Ultimately, all hospital trusts are judged by their patient outcomes. This will continue to be our measure of success as we move to acquisition.”

Mr Broome is not the first to question Northumbria’s motives, with retired consultant Mahesh Dhebar speaking out in March after our sister newspaper The Cumberland News revealed more than 750 hip and knee operations had been carried out in Hexham, losing North Cumbria’s hospitals £3.5m.

Kingsley Smith, chairman of Newcastle Hospitals, has also called into question the pending takeover – saying a lot has changed since the decision was made over two years ago.

“There is a need to look again very carefully at all the options. There is a case for reconfiguring North Cumbria’s hospitals so they can stand on their own, but get support from other providers,” he said.

“We are keen to emphasise that as far as we are concerned our doors here are open to the people of Cumbria, and that patients have choice. We’ve got no axe to grind. We’ve been treating patients in Cumbria for decades and believe we have a duty of care to them.”

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