Under-fire James Paget hospital bosses speak out

The under-fire bosses at a Norfolk hospital last night defended their ability to drive up standards, saying patients could be reassured by the actions they have taken.

The James Paget University Hospital (JPH) said it had been forced to the 'unprecedented step' of assuring patients they were 'safe in our hands', following its comparison with Mid Staffs Hospital.

Speaking for the first time since his resignation as chairman was called for in parliament last week, John Hemming described the comparison as 'scandalous' and said the issues of nutrition, dignity and privacy which had been raised at the Gorleston hospital could not be compared with Mid Staffs, which is the subject of a public inquiry following a higher-than-expected number of deaths.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) first identified concerns about how the James Paget met the nutritional needs of those in its care in April this year.

CQC inspectors, along with a practising nurse and an expert, made unannounced inspections to 100 NHS hospitals to check whether elderly people were treated with dignity and respect, and were receiving food and drink that met their needs. At this time, the CQC found the JPH was not meeting essential standards of care in relation to dignity or nutrition, and told the trust it must make improvements.

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However, when CQC inspectors returned in September, they found standards of nutrition were still falling short of what patients should be able to expect.

The hospital was issued with a warning notice which demanded it make urgent improvements.

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Last week MPs, GPs and the chairman of patient watchdog Norfolk LINk, all questioned the ability of the hospital's management team to make the necessary changes.

In a first statement issued by Mr Hemming since his leadership was called into question, he said of the reference to Mid Staffs: 'This is a scandalous comparison because patient safety has never been questioned. Patients are safe in our hands. The trust has taken seriously the criticisms made by the CQC in respect of dignity and nutrition.

'Patients can be reassured by the actions we have taken and the changes made to date and that we continue to make.

'In respect of the key issues raised, the hospital would have liked to have solved these issues sooner. Making improvements across the entire hospital will take time, but have no doubt, we are not complacent and have already made significant improvements.'

The Mid Staffs comparison was made in an anonymous letter sent to health secretary Andrew Lansley and parts of which were read out by Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey in a parliamentary debate last week.

It has been confirmed that the letter did not come from the board of Health East, the new GP-led health commissioners, but it was signed from 'a group of concerned GPs'.

The James Paget said government figures showed that its death rates are far lower than expected for a hospital of its size, and ranked it as among the best-performing 14 trusts in the country for the new mortality statistics.

Later this week, health secretary Andrew Lansley will visit JPUH, after his scheduled visit was called off in June due to parliamentary pressures.

Chief executive Wendy Slaney said: 'It will be an opportunity to show Mr Lansley first-hand what we have achieved in dealing with the CQC findings, and how seriously we regard these areas of patient care.

'We have become the subject of intense media interest in the last week and we will be able to reassure the minister when he visits us. This is a good hospital with excellent care and dedicated staff. We want to prove that to any doubters, including Dr Coffey, who has declined numerous invitations from our management team to visit the James Paget.'

Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth, has called for a 'swift resolution' to the situation at the hospital.

Mr Lewis has had regular contact with the senior management to discuss his ongoing concerns, which were prompted by the two CQC inspections and also from issues raised by constituents.

He said: 'The staff of the James Paget Hospital are fantastic people; they are working hard and provide an excellent service for our communities. We need to ensure that they have the correct and proper support from the leadership of the hospital and the hospital trust.

'I have spoken with governors and the chief executive over the last week. I am still concerned by the lack of clear outline from the management of the JPUH of how the problems have occurred, what action is being taken, why we can have confidence in it working this time and why these actions were not taken originally.

'These are all valid questions that the leadership of the JPUH must ask itself and provide answers to people who use it services. It is important that quick action is taken so that staff and patients can be reassured.'

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