Northumberland's hospitals 'busier than the very height of winter'

Sir James Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.Sir James Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Sir James Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
A&Es in Northumberland have been ‘incredibly busy’, with the county’s specialist emergency hospital having to cope with 160 ambulances a day.

However, at present, it appears that the pressures are not having a major impact on the experience of patients and staff, given that the feedback for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust remains good.

Opening the latest board meeting, the trust’s chief executive, Sir James Mackey, said: “We have been incredibly busy in terms of flow and ED (emergency departments), busier than the very height of winter, so we are all struggling to understand why.”

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He added that there had been record attendances of ambulances at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, in Cramlington; ‘nearly 160 a day against what we planned for, which was 100’.

“We do need to recalibrate because we have to make sure we can cope with these volumes.”

Sir James said that health chiefs across the country were trying to understand the reasons behind the surge, which is being seen nationally, although primary care (GPs and other first-port-of-call services) is ‘getting more fragile day by day’.

He also pointed out – noting that it was a positive – that because winter was less harsh than it might have been, there were fewer deaths of elderly people, leading to increased numbers now being seen.

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Northumbria’s chief operating officer, Helen Ray, reassured the board that triage, or first assessment, ‘continues to take place appropriately’.

“For walk-in patients, we aim for triage within 15 minutes,” she said. “We don’t always hit that but we monitor it.”

Despite these issues, the patient feedback presented at the meeting – for the fourth quarter (January, February and March) of 2018-19 – saw the trust rated among the top 20 per cent nationally for inpatients and outpatients and for 24 of the 27 questions in relation to emergency departments.

The three where Northumbria scored outside the top fifth of trusts, however, do seem to be a knock-on from the increased volumes of patients as they relate to waiting times until triage and to seeing a doctor or nurse plus pain management.

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Meanwhile, staff experience continues to be positive too, according to a happiness at work survey in April to which more than 3,000 people responded – a third of the trust’s workforce.

It showed that the overall engagement rating by staff had risen from 73% in December to 77.6%, with no statistical difference across all of the trust’s hospitals in Northumberland and North Tyneside.

One of the non-executive directors, Malcolm Page, said: “We are used to seeing these results now, but they are not the norm, they are exceptional.”

In other staffing news, it was reported a successful recruitment event for nurses, midwives and operating department practitioners took place in March. There were 93 interviews for posts due to take place in May.

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Plus, 15 trainee nursing associates completed their two-year qualification at the end of April, all of whom have substantive posts within the trust and will be starting the preceptorship (practical experience) programme in June.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service