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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Newcastle hospitals facing discrimination crisis, says health boss

Newcastle Hospitals chief expected CQC to be more critical of racism in damning report

A top health boss says there is “an awful lot of work” needed to tackle discrimination within Newcastle’s hospitals – and had expected a watchdog to be more critical of alleged racism.

The chief executive of the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust appeared before city councillors on Thursday to face questions over a scathing Care Quality Commission (CQC) verdict that downgraded it from ‘outstanding’ to ‘requires improvement’.

In January, the CQC condemned a “significant deterioration” in the leadership of the trust which runs the Freeman Hospital and Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI), previously considered among the best hospitals in the world, and revealed accusations of a bullying culture.

Chief Executive of Newcastle Hospitals, Sir James Mackey. Image: Newcastle upon tyne NHS

But Sir James Mackey, who took over as chief executive just weeks before that report was published, told Newcastle City Council’s health scrutiny committee that he had expected the inspectors to be even more scathing – saying that he thought racial discrimination issues would feature more prominently in their findings.

Sir James said: “From some of the early signals from CQC, I was expecting more about racism in the final report. There was not quite as much in the final documentation.

“But definitely, in some of the concerns coming forward from staff… some segments of the workforce, staff with protected characteristics whether that is race or disability, do feel especially disadvantaged in the organisation. We have an awful lot of work to do there.”

The CQC’s report says that some staff were positive about the hospitals’ equality, diversity and inclusion strategy and that fewer people had experienced discrimination than the national average.

However, inspectors said there had been some concerns – including “favouritism for white staff to go into higher posts” and women reporting discrimination over pregnancy, maternity leave and being overlooked for management jobs.

Sir James told the scrutiny committee that he hoped the trust would be able to demonstrate sufficient progress to the CQC to have a set of conditions placed on its registration, requiring specific improvement to be made within a specified timescale, lifted this summer.

He said that overhauling the hospitals’ culture, governance and decision-making systems was like doing “five years worth of work in six months”, but added: “I truly believe we can be world class again in a few years’ time and that is what we have to hang on to.”

The CQC had highlighted specific concerns about harassment and abuse at the Freeman’s cardiothoracic department, where staff alleged there had been a history of “bullying, intimidating and punishing staff who speak up over patient safety concerns” and of serious incidents being “deliberately covered up”.

Sir James said on Thursday that the culture of “toxicity” in cardiothoracic was a major worry as this is often a “precursor” to suffering negative outcomes for patients.

Dr Wendy Taylor, Consultant oncologist at the Freeman Hospital and Chair of the Newcastle City Council’s health scrutiny committee. Image: Newcastle upon tyne NHS

He added: “There are a lot of behavioural issues being addressed in cardiac surgery that I can’t talk about here for obvious reasons… involving a lot of individuals, their behaviour, their performance, their future in the organisation.”

Committee chair Wendy Taylor, who is a consultant oncologist at the Freeman, said that senior hospital managers “were simply not visible for the past few years” but had become more accessible under Sir James’ watch.

The chief executive told her that issues with out of date equipment and medication also highlighted by the CQC were “not sorted yet” and there is a need for major renovations to the hospitals – including the building of a significant extension at the RVI.

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