JPH former chairman speaks out

THE former chairman of the James Paget University Hospital told this week how intense outside pressure led to his decision to resign.

John Hemming said: “I decided if I went it would take the spotlight off, and the Paget could get on with life and continue giving excellent care.”

Seven days earlier, Mr Hemming, who had been chairman since November 2004, learned that Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey was to make a statement in the House of Commons following a report by the care Quality Commission (CQC) which criticised aspects of the hospital’s care of the elderly.

She was backed by Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis and Waveney MP Peter Aldous in calling publicly for Mr Hemming to go in the wake of two failed CQC inspections – and a third inspection report expected.

Mr Hemming said: “I felt the local MPs were indicating I was not being helpful in solving the issues of nutrition and dignity. I was seen as being one of the causes of that.”

A quiet man, he revealed he had been told by another health service watchdog, Monitor: “You’re a great hospital, with a good track record and have a bit of a wobble at the moment.”

In a rare moment of frustration, Mr Hemming added: “The MPs have no idea. If they had kept attacking the hospital they would degrade it.”

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In the days leading up to his resignation the situation was getting frenetic. He said: “The stress was enormous; we were trying to do the best for patients but there was media pressure with the three MPs stoking it.”

But Mr Hemming continues to be surprised at Dr Coffey’s comments in the Commons, saying that in her 18 months as Suffolk Coastal MP, she had never been to the hospital – until last Thursday when health secretary Andrew Lansley visited to have talks with the trust.

Eight days on from his resignation, Mr Hemming remains emotional about the decision he felt he had to make to protect the hospital. “I feel so very strongly for the Paget and I hope it continues to develop,” he said.

He remains proud of what the James Paget has achieved under his watch. That included it becoming a ‘foundation trust’ which meant it could retain any financial surplus and reinvest it – a total of of �15m in the last five years.

A partnership with the University of East Anglia medical school enables the James Paget to train a third of the schools’ students. The benefits have included the funding of 12 extra consultants which has allowed it to offeer better cover and more expertise, as well as making it a more attractive place to work.

The trust is also leading the way in other clinical procedures such as the unique distance learning degree for breast surgery, allowing study via the internet; and enhanced recovery for patients needing hip or other joint surgery.

The James Paget is the biggest employer in Yarmouth and Waveney, with 3,000 staff on three shifts, 560 beds and a turnover of �160m.

Mr Hemming was anxious to ensure the report of his resignation did not overshadow what the hospital’s “fantastic staff” do, and he said he was proud of all their efforts.

But he did not lightly dismiss the CQC’s criticisms of nutrition and dignity at the hospital, and insisted that the issues it highlighted were being properly addressed and remedied.

A familiar face on wards and in hospital corridors, Mr Hemming added: “I am very proud of the hospital. It has been an honour and a privilege to be the chairman. The Paget courses through me.”

He also took comfort in the fact he had received more than 200 emails, cards and letters of support and condolence – from nursing staff to consultants, as well as patients.