Many people are travelling to hospitals further away due to ongoing concerns about the Crumpsall hospital’s quality of care, according to members of the town hall’s health scrutiny committee.
The panel said residents are still regularly reporting problems to them, including being sent home only to later be told they should have been kept in.
One councillor – at a meeting that saw NHS bosses grilled on the hospital’s future – said the situation ‘has to change’, warning the combination of bad health and bad healthcare was ‘catastrophic’ for the north of the city.
Nevertheless, decades of under-investment in the site were also highlighted, with the hospital’s previous management accused of consigning it to long-term neglect by viewing it as ‘a bit of a nuisance’.
As a result, the committee heard major financial hurdles still have to be cleared before plans for the site’s future are finalised.
Negotiations are underway with government over funding to close the hospital’s significant deficit – as well as to rebuild large parts of it – and while no financial figures were presented to the committee, it is understood the sums needed run into the tens of millions of pounds.
Chronic problems at North Manchester General – including historic under-funding, ageing buildings and poor management – came to a head in 2016, when the Care Quality Commission delivered a damning verdict on its care, particularly in A&E and maternity services.
Since then it has moved into the control of Salford Royal hospital and the inspectorate has returned to find significant improvements, earlier this year upgrading it from inadequate to requires improvement – with some elements, including leadership, now deemed to be ‘good’.
However Crumpsall councillor Fiaz Riasat told the committee fear persisted among local patients.
“There’s a real issue among people in north Manchester, that they are scared of going to North Manchester,” he said.
“So what they are doing is they are travelling to Central Manchester A&E because they know if they go there, they will actually become an in-patient there and they will get treated.
“There’s a lot of people coming in and saying ‘we get admitted to North Manchester and a few days later we get discharged, only to go back in for a consultant to say [I] should never have been discharged’.
“I know this is true because it actually happened to me in May.”
Coun Riasat said a consultant initially told him that he would need to stay in hospital for three to four weeks, but a second then told him a couple of hours later ‘here’s some tablets – go away, you’ll be fine’.
“After two days I was back in hospital and had a long stay,” he said.
Asking about plans to merge the hospital with the trust that oversees Manchester Royal Infirmary and Wythenshawe, now due to take place by April 2020 – up to a year behind schedule – he noted: “If there’s patients that are scared to go into North Manchester, you have a big job in reassuring them that the system has changed, the funding is there, the expertise is there.
“Because people are afraid, especially if they lose their loved ones.”
Other north Manchester councillors echoed his views.
Charlestown councillor Basil Curley said the hospital’s new management had ‘promised’ improvement in staffing quality, but patients were still raising concerns.
He had himself been there with a relative and found four nurses struggling to interpret a code from a chart on the wall, he said, because they were agency staff who had just come on ‘that day’.
“So we know it’s not working,” he said.
“We were made the promise and it’s not been delivered. It’s very disconcerting in the north when we are dealing with our residents with some of the worst health problems in the city and we have got the worst provision.
“That combination is quite catastrophic and it has to change.”
Committee chair and Higher Blackley councillor John Farrell also noted that the panel had previously grilled the hospital’s new management on staffing, but problems still remained.
“We still pick up on residents that we know who have had very poor experiences, and councillors as well, where the right person hasn’t been on duty,” he said, but added that the hospital’s new management were clearly dedicated and ‘committed’ to the hospital’s future.
But he also noted the situation was partly the result of years of neglect by the previous management of Pennine Acute NHS Trust, which also runs Fairfield General, Rochdale General and the Royal Oldham, adding that they appeared to have historically viewed it as ‘a bit of a nuisance’.
“That’s why investment consistently went into the other sites and not north Manchester,” he added.
The council’s executive member for adults, Bev Craig, acknowledged that there was still a ‘challenge’ around high numbers locum staffing on the site.
But she said bringing the hospital into the same trust as MRI and Wythenshawe would make it a more attractive prospect to prospective permanent staff, who would then view it as part of the ‘Manchester family of hospitals’.
“There is significant will to move this as quickly as possible,” she said of the merger.
Well-functioning services, including community and older people’s care, were already ‘a good example of positive things that’s been happening’ there, she added.
Health officials also stressed the hospital had genuinely got better over the past couple of years.
Ed Dyson, director of planning and operations at Manchester’s join health commissioning body, acknowledged the hospital has a ‘high number of agency staff’ and locums, which the trust is trying to reduce.
He said the planned merger was a ‘real opportunity’ to improve services for people in the north of the city, adding that ‘better use of workforce’, including sharing staff from MRI and St Mary’s, was already making North Manchester better.
Jo Purcell, deputy director for strategy at the Northern Care Alliance group of hospitals, which oversees both Salford Royal hospital and the services historically run by Pennine Acute, acknowledged it may take time for people to rebuild trust in North Manchester.
“There have been significant improvements on the North Manchester site,” she said.
“It’s not where it should be, and unfortunately probably confidence is a slower thing. It will take longer for the public to really, really trust the hospital is working better.
“I think the leadership at North Manchester just work tirelessly to improve services. They are absolutely there all the time. So I do think it’s on the right trajectory.”
On funding, Peter Blythin, who is overseeing the hospital’s forthcoming merger into Manchester Foundation Trust, admitted getting the necessary money from government was both ‘crucial’ and ‘critical’ to ensuring that happened on schedule.
Failure to do so would not only be ‘destabilising’ for the other hospitals in the trust, he said, but would also ‘have a profound impact on Manchester’.
No services are due to alter as a result of the planned merger, he added.
Councillors passed a resolution that no changes are made at the hospital without their knowledge and full consultation, after noting they had initially heard about recent operating theatre closures via a story in the M.E.N.
Health bosses promised regular updates to the committee about plans for the hospital’s future.
Source: Jennifer Williams, Manchester Evening News