Essex hospital ordered to improve

COLCHESTER General Hospital has been ordered to urgently improve its performance following a series of failures in key areas.

Rebecca Lefort

COLCHESTER General Hospital has been ordered to urgently improve its performance following a series of failures in key areas.

The foundation trust hospital is having its performance managed because of the serious concerns over the speed and quality of its care, with just under 200 patients currently waiting too long for operations.

And as a result of the revelations Colchester MP, Bob Russell, said he would be asking for an emergency meeting with the hospital management.

The issues were highlighted at yesterday's board meeting of the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) when health bosses singled out the hospital for criticism among the region's 17 hospital trusts.

The SHA said it was worrying that Colchester General was failing in three areas; treating Accident and Emergency patients within four hours; treating elective patients within 18 weeks of being referred to the hospital; and having an unexpectedly high death rate.

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Dr Paul Watson, the SHA's director of commissioning, said: “The concern in north east Essex is there are a number of service areas at the same time where the recommended standards are not being delivered and recovery is not going as fast as it should.

“The Primary Care Trust (PCT) is performance managing but has not had the response expected and it is moving up the ladder.

“This remains an area of serious concern.”

NHS North East Essex, which buys and plans healthcare in the area, issued the hospital with a performance notice - the first stage in the disciplinary process - in January for failing to treat enough Accident & Emergency patients within four hours.

The hospital failed to improve and in February was given a warning notice and a remedial plan was agreed. However the problem persisted and an exception notice has now been handed out.

Meanwhile earlier this month a separate performance notice was given to the hospital because it failed to treat elective patients within 18 weeks. Figures show that from December 2008 to mid February 2009 333 operations were cancelled.

The PCT is also reviewing the high Hospital Standardised Mortality Rate, which means there is a higher death rate than would be expected of the trust.

Matt Bushell, director of commissioning at NHS North East Essex, said: “To get to this stage is very serious.

“We have had concerns since November. The main area of concern is about discharge planning and accommodation. We are keen to clear the backlog of the large number of patients who have waited too long.

“On a weekly basis we will be meeting to make sure we get it sorted.”

A spokesman for Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust said: “The exception notices relate in part to the winter which the trust has already publicly stated on many occasions was extremely challenging.

“For example, the pressures experienced by our emergency services had a knock-on effect on our 18-week performance.

“We have developed detailed recovery plans that are not only designed to improve our current performance for today and next winter but to ensure that this improvement is sustained in the future.

“An ambitious programme to improve our facilities and to increase our capacity, both in terms of staff and the physical environment, has been incorporated into our five-year plan which the trust board will be asked to endorse next week.

“The trust's performance has improved since the start of 2009/10. For example the four-hour A&E performance of the north east Essex health economy is running at 98.4% since the start of last month; we anticipate achieving the 18-week performance target for April; and our Hospital Standardised Mortality Rate has already come down from its peak last autumn.

“We have signed an agreement with our main commissioner, NHS North East Essex, to reduce this to 100 by February 2010.''

Colchester MP, Bob Russell, said: “I'm very very concerned about this because I had some criticisms of ambulances waiting a long time at Accident & Emergency over the winter but when I contacted the hospital I was led to believe it was a seasonal hiccup.

“I need an urgent meeting with the chief executive because this is clearly a matter of serious concern and needs to be addressed.”

Meanwhile Monitor, the organisation which regulates foundation trusts, is also working with the hospital to improve performance.

A spokesman said: “Monitor is aware of the exception notices issued by NHS North East Essex and we are working with Colchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to ensure it addresses these issues.”