Following the publication of Mr Robert Francis QC’s report into the terrible events which took place at Stafford Hospital, a report which revealed systematic failings in NHS care and management, five more trusts will find themselves in the crosshairs of Sir Bruce Keogh, of the NHS Commissioning Board.

The trusts under scrutiny are:

  • Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust
  • Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Tameside Hospital in the sights

Tameside residents will know that there have long been concerns in the community and in the local media that Tameside’s care was poor: a 2009 report found that it had the third highest mortality rate in England; repeated investigations by the Care Quality Commission in 2009-2012 found that Tameside was failing in key areas including appropriate levels of care, ensuring that patients’ dietary needs were met and the presence of risk management processes and systems.  This culminated in late 2012 when it was widely reported that a 12 year-old schoolgirl, Emma Stones of Dukinfield, died of septicaemia following care which was, according to the coroner, “unacceptable” and “inadequate”.  Other specific problems which have been highlighted with Tameside General Hospital include:

  • A mortality rate in 2003-06 23% above national average
  • A mortality rate 19% above national average in 2009
  • In 2009, a patient satisfaction score of just 4.8 out of 100 according to independent checking organisation Dr Foster
  • In 2010, releasing the wrong body from the mortuary, resulting in a family cremating the wrong person.

It is not for nothing that Tameside General Hospital has been nicknamed “Shameside” by some in the press.  The reports of these incidents paint a picture disturbingly similar – though perhaps not as extreme – to Stafford hospital, that is to say a picture of a hospital with disinterested and/or demoralised staff and a management which tends to accentuate the positive at all costs – for example, Tameside press release in response to this new investigation is:

“The Trust looks forward to receiving Sir Bruce Keogh and/or his team into the hospital.

It is well recognised that Tameside Hospital’s Summary Hospital Mortality Indicator (SHMI) has been elevated for the last two years. In the same way as the hospital has addressed the Dr Foster reported Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratio (HSMR), it has committed to working with its partner organisations to similarly reduce the SHMI.

This additional national focus from Sir Bruce Keogh is welcomed by the hospital as it provides for an even wider–reaching review of the many complex factors that influence the SHMI across the Tameside and Glossop Health Economy. The vast and sustained improvement achieved in our HSMR indicates that addressing the SHMI requires a multi-agency approach, including the local Clinical Commissioning Group and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council.

Over recent years the hospital has undertaken an extensive quality improvement programme, which has seen significant quality gains across a wide range of other clinical indicators including hospital infections, falls, deep vein thrombosis screening and pressure ulcers.

“The 2012 NHS Staff Survey, Friends and Family Indicator, has identified a significant improvement in the number of people recommending Tameside Hospital for treatment and care.

– Christine Green, Chief Executive of Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

This would seem to be at least a partial admission of fault on the part of Tameside; whether there has been the significant improvement Ms Green claims there has been is yet to be determined and will be revealed once Sir Bruce’s investigation goes ahead.

What will be interesting to see are the causes highlighted by Sir Bruce; eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that four of the five NHS trusts under investigation are Foundation Trusts, as was the trust with responsibility for Stafford Hospital.  Foundation Trusts have a considerable degree of independence both from the local Strategic Health Authority and from the Department of Health itself.  Both Inquiries led by Mr Francis QC pointed out that the Mid-Staffordshire Trust’s scramble to qualify as a Foundation Trust was at least in part responsible for a bullying management culture which promoted target-hitting over patient care.  While correlation does not necessarily imply causation, if Tameside and the other Foundation Trusts under review are found to have persistently poor care, questions will be asked about the future of Foundation Trusts as a whole.

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But for patients, the most important thing is never the hospital’s managerial structure; the most important thing is the quality of care they receive – how that is organised is simply a means to an end.  If you’ve experience poor care or suffered from medical negligence at Tameside, or any of the other hospitals which are under investigation – or indeed any other hospital at all – call our clinical negligence team for advice.

With experienced solicitors that have experience from across the country, we’re here to help you.

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