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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Union’s fears over plans to shift surgery from Cumbrian hospital

A nurses' union has raised “extreme concerns” over plans to move all emergency orthopaedic surgery from Whitehaven to Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary.

West Cumberland photo
The West Cumberland Hospital

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) spoke out as insiders at the hospital blamed the closure of two operating theatres at the West Cumberland Hospital last week on a failure to clean air filters.

North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust declined to comment on the claim, but bosses confirmed that one of the closed operating theatres was likely to reopen today after it has been “validated” and “deep cleaned”.

The two operating theatres in Whitehaven were closed on Friday after concerns were raised by inspectors from the national Keogh Review rapid response team, who were called in to investigate higher than expected death rates at the trust’s hospitals.

RCN official Jake Turnbull said the union was “extremely concerned” about the implications of all emergency orthopaedic surgery being transferred to Carlisle.

“We have a planned meeting with the chief executive of the trust today and will be raising this decision with her,” he said.

“We have specific concerns about the safety of the decision, and whether the Carlisle site is able to cope with the extra demands.

“The throughput of emergency patients at the Carlisle site is already an identified problem because of lack of beds and insufficient staffing, so we want to see a clear and urgent risk assessment about how this additional workload will affect the situation.

“While patient safety is paramount, simply transferring the problem to another site does not necessarily resolve the issue, and there will be potentially other unplanned consequences.”

One member of the hospital’s medical staff told the News & Star: “Our concern is that there are just not enough beds or enough nurses.”

The worker said some patients were being sent for surgery to Hexham’s hospital, and added that certain pieces of equipment, including the theatre ventilation system at the Whitehaven, were not serviced on time.

The trust insists its shake-up of orthopaedic surgery will improve the service.

The new arrangement means that all complex and emergency orthopaedic surgery will be done in Carlisle from June 10.

Dallan McGleenan, from the health union Unison, said he too had heard that claim from staff.

He said: “Moving the emergency surgery to Carlisle could have a huge impact. We share the concerns about whether Carlisle can cope.”

The trust said it was working hard to ensure the two Whitehaven orthopaedic operating theatres were reopened as soon as possible. Managers took immediate action when the safety concerns about the theatres were raised.

One operating theatre will remain closed while work on it continues.

A spokeswoman for hospital said: “The trust is optimistic that with one ultra-clean theatre open at West Cumberland Hospital, there will be no further cancellations of elective [planned operation] patients tomorrow.

“The total number of patients affected by the temporary closure is 19 – less than expected due to patients being relocated to other theatres rather than cancelled.”

She added that three emergency orthopaedic trauma patients admitted to the Whitehaven hospital who needed operations were transferred to Carlisle, and back within 48 hours.

A spokeswoman said all operating theatres were routinely checked and must pass stringent safety checks.

“In this case,” she added, “the trust is currently undertaking an investigation to understand why there was a delay in actioning on two reports following a routine theatre inspection.”

Jeremy Rushmer, the trust’s director of clinical transformation, apologised to the patients affected.

He said the trust closed the operating theatres as “a precautionary measure”.

The West Cumberland Hospital would in future continue to treat as many low-risk orthopaedic trauma patients as possible, he said.

Changes planned for June were brought forward because of the temporary theatre closures and they will mean all high-risk and complex orthopaedic trauma patients will be taken to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle to undergo emergency surgery before returning to recuperate in hospital at Whitehaven.

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