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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Hospitals takeover delayed over health inspectors’ patient fears

A takeover of Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary is still on the cards, despite inspectors flagging up fresh patient safety concerns.

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Jeremy Rushmer: ‘Safe, sustainable services’

The chief inspector of hospitals has said North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust must remain in special measures following his recent inspection, as standards are still not up to scratch.

This means a planned takeover by Northumbria Healthcare still cannot go ahead.

But Jeremy Rushmer, medical director, told The Cumberland News that the hospital trust is aiming to be free of its failing status in the coming months – allowing the acquisition to go ahead prior to next year’s general election.

If it is not completed before next May, he fears political upheaval could delay the deal for another year at least.

Many hoped the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection report, published this week, would see the special measures tag – imposed a year ago due to concerns about death rates and safety – removed.

But chief hospital inspector, Professor Sir Mike Richards, said although there had been some good progress, the Carlisle and Whitehaven hospitals were still not meeting required standards.

Problems include staff shortages, lack of beds, pressures in A&E, delayed and cancelled appointments caused by medical records problems, and staff being fearful of flagging up their concerns to bosses.

However he will inspect again in the coming months and if bosses are on top of the issues, may reconsider.

A hospital insider told The Cumberland News: “It means we are in limbo for longer.

“Over the past year there have been many appointments to managerial positions but staff are still in fear of the blame culture and worries are for patient safety.”

NHS chiefs previously said the takeover could not go through while the trust was in special measures, but Dr Rushmer believes that technically it can though he hopes to push ahead with improvements and get the deal finalised early next year.

“We are committed to doing whatever it takes to get this through,” added Dr Rushmer, who was brought across from Northumbria with chief executive Ann Farrar two years ago, to turn the failing trust around.

“My next realistic expectation is to come out of special measures and remain in ‘requires improvement’.

“I expect to remain there for a number of years, but gradually all of these areas that are good will move to outstanding, the inadequates will go to ‘requires improvements’ and they will move to good,” he said.

He admitted being disappointed, particularly for staff, not to have shed the special measures tag already, but said further progress has been made since the inspection team’s visit in May. He was backed by Northumbria boss Jim Mackey, who said he remained fully committed to the takeover. “The trust was in a bad place 12 months ago,” he said

“Whilst it is disappointing that we have not yet acquired north Cumbria, which has impacted on how much progress can be made, the achievements have ensured mortality rates are reduced, caring has improved and performance levels are improving.”

But he said wider NHS support will be needed to resolve long-standing staffing and sustainability issues.

However a spokesman from the Royal College of Nursing union said Northumbria was supposed to be that external help. “A number of senior managers from Northumbria Healthcare have already been drafted in to manage the trust, and have been in place for well over a year now.

“It now appears Northumbria is saying the problems are not something which can be solved by the trust alone,” he added.

Senior consultant Guy Broome quit his job last month and called for an independent investigation into the acquisition, which he said was causing more problems than it was solving. He said the CQC report raises further questions about the trust’s management, particularly when it comes to staffing shortages.

Dr Rushmer said they have made a number of recent consultant appointments, but Mr Broome claimed they are not able to retain staff.

Carlisle MP John Stevenson plans to meet Mr Mackey and said: “The hospital is moving in the right direction but it’s clearly going to take longer than we all hoped.”

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