It has been an unusual start to my working week here at The Countess. My Monday began reading local newspaper coverage reporting that the hospital at which I am Chief Executive is to be merged with a neighbouring Trust. What’s more, the article went on to suggest that our hospital in Chester as well as others nearby will no longer be needed as care will instead be provided at a brand new hospital building in Ellesmere Port. I had been briefed that this story was in the offing and I feel it may be helpful for people to know that this coverage is the consequence of an informal or ‘leaked’ email, which we’ve not seen or been contacted about directly here at The Countess. It is not based on fact or an accurate reflection of any discussions and ambitions for the NHS that I’ve been involved in as part of my regular regional planning meetings.
While grand ideas, innovation and imagining what our NHS could look like 20 years from now is always interesting (and I have many views and opportunities to contribute), it is not my priority today as I sit down with my senior medical and nursing teams to discuss our focus for the weeks, months and winter ahead of us here at The Countess. Instead our agenda is dominated by progress with implementation of the Cheshire Care Record, enabling new ways of sharing information across healthcare providers. At the same time our national links with the Lord Carter NHS review of productivity and efficiency continue to gather momentum as we pioneer a new tool to assess the complexity of a patient’s care needs and use this to electronically roster the right skill mix of staff to our wards. Meanwhile planning for winter is a team effort with our care of the elderly consultants, nurses and therapists getting ready to trial new ways of working in our emergency department and wards. There is much we need to do differently to minimise delays for patients waiting to be seen in our emergency department, or be safely discharged from hospital. We also start our roll out this week of our flu vaccination campaign for staff, motivated to achieve record levels of uptake prompted by the appeal and experience of Countess patient Miles who nearly lost his life after catching flu while on holiday earlier this year.
In the face of daily change and challenge as an NHS Chief Executive, I know all too well that hospitals are rightly valued by their patients like Miles, their staff and their local communities. We play a fundamental role in delivering a high standard of NHS care which we would not want to jeopardise or compromise in any way, shape or form. Many people so kindly take the time to tell me often enough, writing, emailing or tweeting to let me know about very personal experiences of our care. This is what makes the day job so worthwhile for many of us working in the NHS. I also recognise that hospitals are not ‘islands’ and that it makes no sense to operate in splendid isolation. I regularly look to my counterparts across the Cheshire and Merseyside region for opportunities, learning from best practice, support and inspiration.
Yes, the Countess of Chester is actively contributing towards an outline Cheshire and Merseyside Sustainability and Transformation Plan. This really is at an early stage in its development and needs much more public discussion and involvement.
The suggestion for building a new hospital, while potentially interesting, is a giant leap to make and certainly not an answer to today’s immediate NHS dilemmas. We can’t afford to get distracted while we have more pressing issues. At a time when there are so many aspirational and forward thinking NHS conversations taking place, speculation really can prove itself unhelpful. It is unsettling for our NHS staff, those patients dependent on our services and the residents of West Cheshire and Wirral – all of whom deserve better.
When these plans are published, let’s have the discussion and the debate from an informed position.