STAFFORD Hospital’s services are safe but unsustainable, the Chief Inspector of Hospitals has warned.
Professor Sir Mike Richards also made an urgent call for the organisations overseeing the moving of services from Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust (MSFT) to University Hospital of North Staffordshire and Royal Wolverhampton Trust (RWT) to prepare a “clear transition plan without delay.”
Professor Richards’ comments came following an urgent inspection of the hospital, carried out at the beginning of this month at the request of Monitor, the Trust Development Authority and the Trust Special Administrator.
In his letter to the organisations Professor Richards said: “‘The senior managers at MSFT, including the chief executive, are having to spend inordinate amounts of time ensuring that individual nursing shifts are adequately filled and that sufficient numbers of medical staff will be available for different services. To date they have been able to do this, but I would emphasise the word ‘just.’
“We were both surprised and very concerned that a clear transition plan has yet to be developed to ensure the safe transition of responsibility for clinical services to the agreed model of care over the next four months. This clearly requires the full involvement of MSFT and other organisations in the wider health economy.
“In addition, the workforce at MSFT needs clarity as soon as possible about what is going to happen next. The current uncertainty is contributing to the fatigue and fragility amongst staff.
“The transition plan should therefore include a commitment by the acquiring organisations to support medical and nursing staff levels at Mid Staffs over the next four months so that services remain safe.”
The inspection team, chaired by Andy Welch, Medical Director of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, looked specifically at whether the trust’s clinical services were safe.
It concluded that services were safe, but staffing levels were only just adequate in some areas, particularly on medical wards.
If recruitment or retention fell by just one or two people in some posts, services would become unsafe, the team warned.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is due to publish a full report on the inspection next month.
In response to Professor Richards, MSFT, the TSA, Monitor and the TDA said: “Your letter provides a very concerning assessment of the unique fragility of services at the organisation, which are heavily reliant on temporary staff to ensure safety standards are met for patients.
“Even in the short term, this is an unsustainable position with potentially significant consequences for the surrounding trusts, in particular RWT, UHNS and Walsall, who could face their own capacity pressures should any unplanned reductions in services at Stafford be necessary.
“There is an urgent need for a system-wide transition plan that plots a critical path to both support the stability of services at Stafford in the immediate term, whilst also securing safe and sustainable services in the future, through the implementation of the agreed future service model ahead and the dissolution of the trust in November. To enter another winter without this change would be potentially disastrous for the local health economy.
“Whilst a great deal of work has been, and continues to be, done around transition planning, we recognise the concerns that you have expressed in this matter. All relevant parties are working closely to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.”