County's second class health services

By Mark HeathTHE extent of the health crisis in Suffolk is brought into stark focus today as the county's hospitals are shown to be failing the grade.

By Mark Heath

THE extent of the health crisis in Suffolk is brought into stark focus today as the county's hospitals are shown to be failing the grade.

Both Ipswich Hospital and West Suffolk Hospitals Trusts were awarded just one star out a possible three in the annual health league tables, published today by the Healthcare Commission.

The disappointing ratings see West Suffolk Hospitals Trust loses two stars on last year's ranking, while Ipswich Hospital Trust loses one.

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Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust bottomed out, receiving no stars for the second straight year, and the county's primary care trusts also suffered, with only one scoring better than a one-star rating.

The East Anglian Ambulance Trust also loses a star from last year's maximum rating, falling to two in 2005.

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It comes as the county's health services face a spiralling financial crisis, with huge debts forcing bosses to consider closing hospitals and cutting patient services.

But elsewhere in the region other health trusts will be toasting their success - particularly at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, which has been awarded a maximum three-star rating.

That marks a one star improvement on last year's figure, while the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital also picked up a star as it moves up from one to two.

The Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which includes Addenbrooke's Hospital, stayed on an even keel with two stars, the same rating as last year.

A closer look at the indicators, which go towards the star ratings, makes even more depressing reading for the county's health bosses.

West Suffolk Hospitals Trust “significantly underachieved” in the financial management area, as well as underachieving in hospital cleanliness, outpatient and elective (inpatient and day case) booking, and total time in accident and emergency.

It was also ranked as “poor” for cancelled operations, six-month inpatient waits and waiting times for the rapid access chest pain clinic.

Chris Bown, chief executive, said: “We knew that we could not retain our three-star status because of the financial situation, but a rating of one star does not recognise the enormous effort made by staff to improve performance in areas where we knew we had a problem,”

Ipswich Hospital Trust also “significantly underachieved” in financial management and underachieved in total time in accident and emergency.

It was also ranked as “poor” for cancelled operations, six-month inpatient waits and waiting times for the rapid access chest pain clinic.

Christine Smart, trust chairman, said: “It has been an exceptional year for our hospital with unprecedented pressures on resources and within the health care system.

“Keeping one star against this background is a real achievement and entirely due to the exceptional hard work and dedication of everyone who works at and is involved with the trust.”

Buoyed by its return to three-star status, the James Paget Hospital announced it was to renew its bid for NHS foundation trust status.

David Hill, chief executive, said: “It is especially pleasing as we have been assessed on a wide range of issues that really matter to patients.

“Our trust board will now continue the application process for NHS foundation trust status that was deferred last year.”

Mark Halladay, chief executive of Suffolk Mental Health Partnership, said its zero-star rating was a “real disappointment”.

“Staff have worked extraordinarily hard over the last year to put right the issues that were below standard in last year's assessment,” he added.

Mr Halladay said two things had let the trust down - not fully establishing a new service to support people in their homes and the quality of inpatient facilities - but the trust had met 21 out of 23 of the other standards in the ratings.

He added: “Some people might regard a zero star rating therefore as a little harsh. Certainly I do not regard it as a reflection on the day-to-day commitment and quality of care which our staff provide.”

Heaping more misery on Suffolk, the region's primary care trusts fared poorly in the ratings with all but one - Waveney Primary Care Trust - receiving just one star.

Their results were mostly unchanged from last year, with only Suffolk Coastal Primary Care Trust losing a star compared to the 2004 ratings.

The tables also reveal the extent of the cash problems in the county with all - again with the exception of Waveney Primary Care Trust - told they had “significantly underachieved” in financial management.

Mike Stonard, Suffolk West Primary Care Trust chief executive, said: “It is disappointing that we have only been awarded one star, considering our level of achievement in delivering better services for our patients.

“Clearly this does not reflect the dedication and commitment of our hard-working staff. As ever, it is our financial difficulties that have impacted on our star rating.

“The priority now is to address our financial problems so that we can plan confidently for better quality services that are sustainable in the future.

“In terms of our accident and emergency targets, we have already turned this around and continuing to hit our national targets.”

Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive of Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts - made up of Central Suffolk, Ipswich and Suffolk Coastal Primary Care Trusts - said: “Our performance rating of one star in all three primary care trusts reflects the very significant financial challenges we are not only facing, but tackling.

“A little while ago we published Changing for the Better, which sets out our plans for bringing care closer to home and achieving financial stability.

“With the dedicated and skilled staff we have working throughout the NHS in Suffolk East, I am confident that we will build on this performance in the coming years.”

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