Gorleston hospital boss resigns over growing criticism

THE under-fire chairman of the James Paget University Hospital resigned this week after a seven-day crisis over the quality of care provided to patients.

John Hemming stood down from his position on Wednesday, and former editor of The Mercury and Eastern Daily Press, Peter Franzen, was appointed interim chairman.

Today’s appointment of Mr Franzen came the same day the secretary of state for health Andrew Lansley visited the hospital.

Pressure had been mounting on the James Paget since last Thursday when three MPs called for John Hemming to go in the wake of two failed watchdog inspections under his control.

It was a call backed by Great Yarmouth and Waveney GPs who said they had “lost confidence” in the leadership and feared a third watchdog inspection would end in failure.

The plea for a management shake-up was voiced by GPs in a “whistleblowing” letter read out by Suffolk Coastal MP Theresa Coffey during a parliamentary debate on NHS care for older people.

The letter was also sent to Mr Lansley who issued a stern warning to hospital bosses that a failure to address “critical issues” would “not be tolerated”.

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Meanwhile, concerns were raised by the hospital union Unison that staff were having to cope with large numbers of patients with complex needs.

Bosses at the James Paget moved to defend their position on Monday by reassuring patients actions taken would address the lapses in older patients’ care highlighted by Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections.

But the pledge was not enough to save Mr Hemming who resigned, claiming he was seen as a “hindrance to improving patient care”.

He said: “I am proud to have been a very small part of what the James Paget has achieved over the past eight years. Patient safety and patient care has always been at the centre of our agenda and we have seen advances in medicine and surgery that have improved outcomes and life expectations.

“We have a workforce that is dedicated and professional, that strives to do the best for patients. We became the first NHS Foundation Trust in Norfolk and Suffolk and have a very supportive Governors Council, representing our members’ interests.

“I am standing down as chairman as I am seen politically as a hindrance to improving patient care for the vulnerable and elderly, which is unacceptable to me. I hope my successor will be able to accelerate the improvements we are making to ensure the trust achieves all the required outcomes for CQC inspection.

“The trust has an excellent low mortality rate, in the top 14 trusts in England, registers highly in inpatient surveys and on our local real time patient feedback tools and receives many letters from visitors praising the level of care and comparing it favourably to their local hospital.

“It has been a privilege and an honour to serve the trust.”

The Gorleston hospital has been operating under a cloud since it failed two inspections focused on dignity, privacy and nutrition.

The second failed CQC report at the end of September prompted a formal warning to the hospital, and it was cautioned if it did not made swift improvement it would face serious consequences, which could include prosecution or restriction of services.

It was a concern echoed by the hospital trust regulator Monitor who are in the midst of a two-month assessment of the hospital’s governance.

Retired consultant surgeon and lead governor Hugh Sturzaker offered his support to John Hemming in the wake of his departure.

He said: “As elected representatives of the local community the governors voiced their unanimous support for John and did ask him to consider staying. We do, however, understand his decision and we would like to pay tribute to his tireless championing of the interests of the hospital, our patients and staff. Recent events have been difficult for everyone but the James Paget is a first class hospital with highly dedicated and hard working staff.”

Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, Dr Coffey and Waveney MP Peter Aldous met with the CQC on Wednesday for a briefing on the outcome of its third inspection of the James Paget, which is expected to be published next week.

Mr Lewis said: “In standing down to give the hospital a chance at a fresh start he has shown clear and strong leadership that is to be commended.”

John Hemming, 70, was appointed chairman in November 2003.

Interim chairman Peter Franzen said: “I have no quibble with the CQC. They saw things we didn’t and it is up to us to put it right. My role is to build on the good work that has been going on to satisfy the requirements of the CQC, but more importantly to make sure each patient in this hospital gets the high level of care they have every right to expect.”