Four senior directors at Lancashire’s NHS trust have resigned following months of ‘severe challenges’ at the crisis-hit hospitals.
Suzanne Hargreave’s decision to step down as operations director at Lancashire Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust - which run Preston Royal Hospital and Chorley Hospital - is the latest blow as organisations grapple with a recently-revealed £42m deficit.
Three divisional directors have also announced their departures from the Trust within the last month.
Seperately, nurses at the A&E at Chorley and South Ribble District General Hospital threatened to withdraw their good will after having to work shifts of up to 17 hours.
Karen Partington, chief executive of the NHS Foundation Trust said that the body’s operational performance “has been severely challenged in recent months and especially during the winter period”.
Of the three staff members to leave, the Post believes they include divisional director for surgery Alison Haughton, divisional director for medicine Lisa Hulme, and divisional director for support services Nina Russell.
The Trust said that the timing was coincidental but confirmed that three divisional directors had been “successful in their applications for positions in other organisations”.
It is not clear at this point when Suzanne Hargreaves is expected to leave but the Post believes that the divisional directors are set to leave in July.
The departures come over a difficult period at the Trust with A&E nursing staff at Chorley Hospital writing to chiefs to warn them that they would be starting to finish their shifts on time so that they did not have to work overtime if contingency plans were not put in place.
A&E consultants at Royal Preston Hospital also wrote to the Trust board highlighting concerns over unsafe staffing issues and overcrowding.
In a letter to Trust bosses A&E nurses wrote: “The department stops accepting patients at 8pm and staff are rostered on until 10pm.
“However frequently we are not able to leave at 10pm as there are still patients within the department.
“We are regularly very late off and as a result this poses problems with our home lives and means that upon commencement of our shift we never know what time the shift will end.
“Often we still have to report to work the following morning after a late finish, thus putting staff and patients at risk.
“At the moment we feel that it is just expected that we all stay on and cover the department regardless of other commitments.
“We have not arrived at this decision lightly but as a group of staff we are seeing our health and personal relationships suffer and we feel we can’t adequately care for our patients.”
Jenny Hurley of protest group Protect Chorley Hospital from Cuts and Privatisation said: “This has caused the pressure to be pushed back up the management ladder and the resignations come as no surprise with the Trust Executives still not taking responsibility for their lack of safety within the hospital.
“The campaign is fully behind the staff who need a work life balance.”
Staff giving notice of their plans told the Trust they would be leaving on time as of this week.
The Trust has told the Post: “We have made changes to resolve this issue.”
It also confirmed Preston Hospital’s emergency department had raised concerns about “capacity pressures” in March but added: “We have been working together to resolve these issues.”
Steve Turner of Unite the Union said: “I am not surprised at these resignations and although there may be personal reasons, the increasing pressures within our NHS created by the present government, a lack of funding and plans to decouple and privatise services from our hospital adds to the increasing pressure staff face.
“We have witnessed patients waiting to be treated in corridors for hours on end, A&E target times missed, operations cancelled and ambulances queuing up for hours on end outside our hospitals.
“Of course winter pressures increases pressure on staff too, shortages of staff mean more demands to work excessive hours to cope with workloads.
“Many experts in the NHS say winter pressures are now the norm throughout the year, if we had a major incident within our community could we cope?”
He added: “It is clearly a worrying time when we see staff leave, and not just senior staff.
“This will mean that audits by the Care Quality Commission will pick up on increasing failures at operational levels this puts our hospitals at risk.”
The Trust is expecting to report a £42m deficit position for 2017/18, according to board papers published on May 3.
At its last CQC inspection in April 2017 the Trust was rated as Requires Improvement.
Emergency care system overhaul
Following the challenges the Trust was up against over the winter it is now set to overhaul its urgent and emergency care systems.
Its chief executive, Karen Partington, confirmed all four senior members of staff had resigned.
She said: “In an unfortunate coincidence of timing three of our divisional directors have recently confirmed that they have been successful in their applications for positions in other organisations – and we wish each of them every success.
“We are taking the opportunity to review our structure and will seek to make new appointments shortly.
“Separately, Suzanne Hargreaves, operations director has decided it’s time for a break after four years in the job. Suzanne has worked tirelessly in this role and throughout her career to develop and deliver the highest standards of services and provide safe and effective care for patients and we thank her for her dedication and commitment, and wish her well for the future.
“We are currently considering interim arrangements.
“Our operational performance has been severely challenged in recent months and especially during the winter period. We have recently introduced a continuous improvement approach, and are working with local partners to make system-wide changes to urgent and emergency care pathways in particular. “We are confident that a systematic and detailed review of pathways and service design will drive the necessary improvements to performance going forwards.”
Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle called for the Trust to provide a better explanation as to the reasons behind the departures.
He said: “There’s major concerns, we have four people who are leaving - what we need to be told is why are people leaving.
“Is it that there’s another underlying problem here, is it a change of strategy?
“An explanation ought to be given by the Trust to explain what’s going on.”
He added: “How do you put a price on delivering health services?
“We are under funded, it’s an issue, we do need more funding and I will always support the Trust in this. We are in a major growth area.
“More funding should be going into Preston and Chorley Hospitals to ensure we can deliver services to meet the needs of the community.”