‘Requires improvement’ say watchdogs – we knew that, say NHS chiefs, and we’re already on the case

The emergency department at the Lister Hospital is an action area, say watchdogs

The emergency department at the Lister Hospital is an action area, say watchdogs - Credit: Archant

Health watchdogs who ran the rule over the NHS Trust which oversees Stevenage’s Lister Hospital and the new QEII in Welwyn Garden City in October have finally delivered their verdict - and the diagnosis is disappointing.

The East & North Herts NHS Trust has pumped £150 million into improved facilities in recent years, but the Care Quality Commission says that overall things have to get better.

While acknowledging some top class performances - more than two thirds of the areas which were reviewed were graded as good or better - the bottom line mark is ‘requires improvement.’

But that’s no shock to hospital chiefs who have been waiting for months for the final report.

They had to assess themselves before the 60-strong CQC team arrived, and they came up with a similar conclusion.

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The biggest black mark which has to be addressed is the brand new emergency department, centralised on the Lister site, which has been struggling to cope with a huge surge in admissions which is well beyond what was predicted when the project was given the green light.

Chief executive Nick Carver’s action plan has two prongs – first, work needs to be done to establish why so many more patients, particularly older people with complicated combinations of complaint, are pitching up at the Corey’s Mill Lane site.

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But he accepts that capacity also needs to be addressed, and plans are already being drawn up to invest a further £2 million to create more than 20 extra assessment beds which will help ease the existing bottleneck.

The trust’s urgent and emergency services were the poorest performer, with standards of medical care also failing to reach the required standard.

But in surgery, critical care, maternity, and outpatients the picture was far more positive, with ratings for community health services for children, young people and families scoring good cross the board and hitting the heights of ‘outstanding’ for caring.

The picture at the QEII also showed a majority of good marks, with expectations for that to get even better as new facilities bed in.

But the Mount Vernon Cancer Care Centre, which also comes under the trust’s wing, has a number of action areas.

Mr Carver accepted the findings as ‘a decent report’ while the trust’s new chair Ellen Schroder, who only started work on Friday, said it provided her with an excellent briefing about where the priorities were.

Mr Carver said: “We knew beforehand that the bar to get a ‘good’ rating was set very high, and we were also aware that there were some services where further improvements were needed.

“We went into the inspection expecting to be rated as ‘requiring improvement.’

He said that changes to some processes were put in place while the inspection team were still on the Lister site, but providing a solution for the emergency department couldn’t be a quick fix.

Nearly 70 per cent of acute NHS trusts have scored a ‘requires improvement’ rating - and Mr Carver stressed that the report highlighted 19 different areas of outstanding practice but only six where changes needed to be made.

The trust now has to report to the CQC on a weekly basis to give details about how action areas are being addressed, and another inspection will be held at some time after September to assess progress.

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