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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

NHS Trust Faces scrutiny over leadership and cancer care failures from councillors

Northumberland councillors criticise Newcastle Hospitals trust over damning CQC inspection

Officials from Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have faced criticism from councillors in Northumberland.

Managing director Rob Harrison and director of patient and staff experience Annie Laverty – who were both appointed in February – attended Tuesday’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s Health and Wellbeing scrutiny committee. Alongside director of communications Caroline Docking, the healthcare bosses presented the latest set of quality accounts for the trust in the wake of a damning CQC inspection published in January.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has downgraded the trust, which runs the Freeman Hospital and Royal Victoria Infirmary, to ‘requires improvement’. This followed a series of inspections throughout 2023, which found there had been a “significant deterioration” in the trust’s leadership and that some staff felt there was a culture of bullying.

CQC officials reported how hospital staff reported bullying being a “normal occurrence” and that staff were encouraged to “turn a blind eye” to such behaviour.

Following this, a number of measures were introduced to improve performance – including the highest level of support for cancer care to help the trust hit waiting list targets.

The draft quality accounts show that 85.9% of patients waited 31 days between a decision to treat cancer and the start of treatment, while the target is 96%. Just 55.5% of patients waited 62 days or less from an urgent suspected cancer referral to first treatment for cancer, against a target of 85%.

The report stated that “underlying issues” had prevented the trust from hitting targets, including limited theatre capacity with “additional provision not keeping pace with increases in demand”. Furthermore, some capacity was lost throughout the year due to estate updates and refurbishments.

Cllr Georgina Hill was critical of the trust both for missing cancer targets and the treatment of whistle-blowers identified by the CQC report.

She said: “Obviously this report is profoundly disappointing and unsettling.

“It’s concerning, as you’ve mentioned – and I don’t think you can overstate how concerning it is – that in the backdrop of the post office scandal and the treatment of whistleblowers, the NHS is one of the few organisations that is worse than local Government in terms of the treatment of people who complain.

“Last year, I raised the issue of cancer waiting times, which were really poor, and I was told it would be better this year. It’s not.

“Not many more than half received treatment within 62 days. That’s really worrying.

“How can we be confident? It’s hugely disappointing. I really want to know you’re confident things will improve, particularly in terms of cancer waiting times.”

Mr Harrison said: “I totally agree that the cancer waiting times are not where they need to be. There’s two aspects to waiting times – those patients who receive their care within 62 days and those who wait longer.

“In the last three and a half months we have been focused on reducing the number of patients who are beyond 62 days. During that period we have reduced that quite significantly and nearly halved it.

“We have done that on purpose because those people are waiting the longest. That will then, over time, impact on the total number of patients, the proportion of them, who receive care within 62 days.

“This is not straight forward at all but it’s part of what we will be absolutely aiming to do this year. There is further to go, there is a lot more to do and we will focus on that in the next 12 months.”

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