Friday, December 2, 2011

Bob Archer on Royal London Resignations

WHEN it was announced in 2009 that Accident and Emergency and Maternity services at King George Hospital, Ilford, were to be axed, local people were assured that this would be an improvement.

The reason given was that while Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust (BHRUT) was “currently facing the biggest challenges in recruiting and retaining staff and providing experienced cover on two sites” (i.e. King George and Queen’s hospital, Romford), there were: “Two …major acute hospitals providing a ‘truly 24/7 service’ – and additional specialist services … Romford’s Queen’s Hospital and the Royal London, Whitechapel”. (Ilford Recorder 15 Oct 2009).

All the propaganda insisted that although accident and heart and stroke victims would face longer ambulance journeys, by concentrating highly skilled staff at centres of excellence (such as the Royal London), the patients would receive better treatment in the end. After all, the surgeons would be dealing with serious and highly complex cases all the time, so they would always be on top of their job.

This was also touted as the best way of improving the performance of the trust (described as “the worst performing in the country” by the Care Quality Commission on 14 October 2009) and of tackling a £100 million rolling deficit.

It has not taken long for the wheels to fall off this cunning plan. The recent report by the care Quality Commission into maternity services at Queen’s Hospital Romford explains why expectant mothers needing caesarian sections have to go all the way to Homerton Hospital in Hackney for the procedure.

Now it turns out that six senior senior consultants at the Barts and London NHS Trust have resigned recently over the effect of “poor management and government cuts” (Guardian, 2 December 2011).

One of them, David Goodier, complained angrily to hospital managers a year ago. This September he sent an email resigning from his job and stating that the situation there is causing patients to suffer from infections, pain and starvation, and that patients with broken bones are actually being harmed “as managers strove to hit waiting list targets and cut budgets”.

He goes on: “We are regularly out of kit, out of nurses, out of ODPs [operating department planners] and always out of beds. We have become so used to the situation, it is no longer seen as a crisis, it is the norm … I have been complicit in a poor standard of trauma care and am guilty of negligence by association.”

The President of the Royal Society of Surgeons, Professor Normal Williams, also works part time at the hospital. The Guardian reports that “He warned that a failure to investigate could result in allegations of a cover-up similar to ‘Mid-Staffs’.”

The Royal London Hospital has had a £1 billion expansion financed by a Private Funding Initiative (PFI) scheme which has effectively mortgaged it for years ahead. Large parts of the new building lie empty, while austerity measures reducing staffing and equipment below safety levels.

So the promise of “centres of excellence” turn to dust and ashes in front of our eyes. That’s not to criticise the staff at every level at the Royal London who soldier on through every difficulty of understaffing and lack of beds and basic equipment.

Nor is to condemn the doctors who refuse to be part of a fraud any longer. These are the real “clinicians” involved and their judgement is damning. They deserve our wholehearted support.

We should redouble our efforts to save A&E and Maternity services at King George and to make sure that all our hospitals are adequately resourced.

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