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Thursday, 27 November 2014

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Hospital doctors defended ahead of new inspection

Doctors at west Cumbria’s troubled hospital fear they are being set up to fail because they’re not being told how to improve.

Their concerns come as a team of inspectors prepares to swoop on the West Cumberland Hospital and Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary.

The Care Quality Commission has pledged to send “a larger team of specialist inspectors” to carry out a “more in-depth” inspection into the hospital run by the failing North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust.

A spokeswoman for the trust welcomed the news, insisting it is an opportunity to gain vital feedback and help it improve.

Jamie Reed, MP for Copeland, warned: “The entire community supports genuine measures in our hospitals designed to improve standards – but there’s a growing feeling among medical professionals and patients that our hospitals are being set up to fail.”

However, Carlisle MP John Stevenson questioned his fellow MP, telling the News & Star: “What a bizarre comment to make. I would argue it has already failed in the past and that is why they’ve decided to go for a merger with Northumbria.”

The trust was placed into special measures last July after Sir Bruce Keogh found it to be hugely understaffed and poorly maintained. A previous CQC inspection had reported on overworked staff reduced to tears and patients left in urine-soaked beds.

Visits by the Keogh Review team – investigating shocking death rates at both the Cumberland infirmary and the West Cumberland Hospital – uncovered serious health and safety failings in operating theatres at the Whitehaven site.

The west Cumbrian hospital was also subsequently the subject of a damning CQC inspection.

While further inspections found improvements have been made at both sites – findings echoed by the Keogh Review monitoring team – staff and patients continue to raise concerns over staffing levels and waiting times.

Mr Reed added: “Despite being placed in special measures, our hospitals have never been told what this actually means, or what they need to do to emerge from special measures.

“In addition to this, we have real staff shortages – as made clear by Sir Bruce Keogh – and a stalled trust acquisition process which government seems content to allow to drag on.

“All of this leads to huge insecurity and uncertainty and this impacts upon the quality of services the our hospitals can provide.”

Mr Reed thanked doctors, nurses and other staff who are carrying on despite the difficulties.

In contrast, Mr Stevenson welcomed the news of the latest inspections.

“What is most important is that hospital staff and hospital patients have a safe, functioning hospital that serves our city to the best of its ability,” he insisted.

North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust (NCUH) was in the process of being acquired by Northumbria Healthcare when it was placed in special measures.

The acquisition has since been delayed until the Cumbrian trust improves.

The NCUH spokeswoman said: “Since the Keogh review was published, we have focused all efforts on improving the safety and quality of care for patients and significant improvements are now starting to take effect in our hospitals to help us achieve national standards.

“We continue to take a proactive approach towards recruiting more nursing and medical staff and Northumbria Healthcare has helped introduce its award-winning patient experience programme. Our latest patient experience results show that 89 per cent of inpatients rated their care with us as ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘good’.

“While we are making significant improvements, we are clear there is still much work to do. With the continued support of our many thousands of dedicated staff, we are confident we can keep up this positive momentum to ensure our improvement plans are delivered.”

Estephanie Dunn, operational manager for the Royal College of Nursing northern region, accepted that the trust is making improvements, but said the union’s members continue to report issues.

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