‘Critical friend’ will help King’s Lynn hospital to improve

Wendy Cookson, who has been appointed as a new director at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt Wendy Cookson, who has been appointed as a new director at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

Thursday, January 16, 2014
7:00 AM

As interim quality improvement director at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Wendy Cookson believes it must go ‘back to basics’ to get out of special measures. ANDREW PAPWORTH reports.

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As the new “critical friend” to the King’s Lynn Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) on its journey out of special measures, Wendy Cookson admits her ultimate goal is to do herself out of a job.

Even though she has just been appointed as interim director of quality improvement, the 48-year-old wants to help the hospital improve to such an extent that she is no longer needed.

With a 25-year NHS background, she is currently going through the process of reading reports, meeting staff and observing wards in action – to determine what works and the improvements needed.

Using her decade of experience in the change management and turnaround of hospitals, her role is then to challenge everything around the quality of care so patients get a better service.

“My role is to do myself out of a job,” said Mrs Cookson, who officially started in her role just a couple of months after regulators identified several shortcomings at the Gayton Road hospital.

“I am here to challenge everything around quality, which is how patients and staff experience the trust and how it manages governance, leaving it in a good place to look after itself.”

For the QEH that means focusing on improving waiting times in accident and emergency (A&E ) and ensuring money is used well.

A lot, she said, is about going “back to basics” – making sure everything is well-documented and that there is strong communication with patients and GPs.

Although it might sound obvious, she said the QEH must focus on patients as humans, not just numbers.

“This trust has several thousand patients,” she said.

“Trusts that tend to lose their way are those that look at the numbers and don’t look at them as people. It is about putting the patient at the centre of everything.”

For example, she said the QEH should not relax after reaching the target of seeing 95pc of patients within four hours at A&E but investigate why the other 5pc missed out.

“The approach I have is objective honesty,” she said.

She asks staff a lot of questions beginning with “why?” but said: “I don’t come in and do the job for workers.

“It is not me who makes the difference – it is them. I look at how they currently do things and help them discover how they can do things differently.”

She likens her role to that of a “critical friend” – supporting workers at all levels but being clear what must change.

Mrs Cookson has strong knowledge of what the Care Quality Commission (CQC), will look for when it next visits the QEH, which could be at any time. However, she said her success would be measured not only by a future CQC inspection but patient and staff feedback.

She anticipates it will take between three and six months before the QEH “should largely be able to stand on its own two feet”, but said: “I’m prepared to stay until the job is done”. How do you think the QEH is doing? Write, giving your full contact details, to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk

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