Previous SectionIndexHome Page

31 Oct 2002 : Column 1103—continued


Food Supplements

7 pm

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): I am pleased to present the following petition, signed by more than 900 constituents, which states:

To lie upon the Table.

31 Oct 2002 : Column 1104

Wythenshawe Hospital

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

7.1 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington, North): I speak on behalf of my constituent, Mr. Stanley Ford, and his family to draw attention to his deplorable treatment at Wythenshawe hospital. I do so without any pleasure because this is an appalling case that raises serious questions about the management of both the South Manchester University hospitals trust, of which Wythenshawe is a part, and the strategic health authority.

Let me say at the outset that the problems experienced by Mr. Ford were caused not by the clinical staff but by management. Indeed, the Ford family have expressed their appreciation of the work of the health care staff at Wythenshawe hospital. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), who unfortunately cannot be here tonight, has the highest regard for the clinical care delivered at the hospital.

These problems were caused by a management that has shown itself to be incompetent, uncaring and unwilling to take complaints seriously or to learn from them. However, it is a case from which we must learn if we are to ensure that no family goes through a similar experience. I raise this case not because I believe that the NHS is generally like that, but because I have experienced myself, and through my friends and family, the marvellous health care normally provided. When managers act in this way, they let down not only the patients involved but the many good health care staff who deliver excellent care every day.

Mr. Ford's case was first drawn to my attention in June by his daughter, who sent me an e-mail telling me a very sorry tale. Mr. Ford had had a number of heart attacks and was listed for surgery at Wythenshawe hospital. His operation was due to take place on 22 March, and it was cancelled by the hospital. It was cancelled on a further four occasions prior to his daughter writing to me and then once more on 14 June, after she got in touch with me. Not surprisingly, those cancellations had a devastating effect on Mr. Ford and his family. He and his wife are both 74, and the repeated cancellations were taking a toll on Mrs. Ford's health, both because of the strain that they imposed and in the difficulties that she experienced in looking after her sick husband. Mrs. Ford's daughter wrote to me:

She also said that her parents

She was absolutely right. The test is whether it would be good enough for our parents—it would not be good enough for my mother or, I am sure, the parents of anyone else in the House. If it is not good enough for them, it is not good enough for anyone's parents.

I expected that because Mr. Ford's case was so bad it would be resolved quickly. After confirming that he wanted me to take his case, I wrote to the hospital, expecting that I would quickly get an assurance that

31 Oct 2002 : Column 1105

Mr. Ford would have his operation and that the problems that had arisen would be dealt with. I am afraid, however, that the hospital did not take the complaint as seriously as it should have done—it did not appear to be shocked or scandalised. Instead, I got a letter from someone called the assistant complaints co-ordinator—apparently, six cancellations do not merit the attention of senior staff at that hospital—who would not tell me anything and would write instead to my constituent for Xreasons of confidentiality".

I wrote again to the chief executive and told him that if I could not get answers from the hospital I would table questions in the House. Throughout, the chief executive has refused to communicate with me without assigned authority from the patient, a matter to which I shall return. I have not encountered that attitude in any other trust, and it is particularly bizarre in this case because the reasons for the cancellations had nothing to do with the patient's medical condition; they were to do with what was happening at the hospital. In fact, I have had great difficulty in getting information throughout, although on 2 July, having said that it would not communicate with me, the hospital sent me a copy of a letter to my constituent which was both inaccurate and fatuous. It referred to four cancellations, whereas there had been six—an error that it had to put right in a letter of 12 August. However, the monitoring and management systems in place in that hospital must be called into question if it was not even clear about how often the operation had been cancelled.

The hospital also made no attempt to address the reasons why Mr. Ford had had to wait so long. Instead, it said that if an operation was cancelled, it was usually rescheduled within 28 days, and added:

Frankly, six cancellations of any operation, particularly a serious heart operation, would cause anyone a great deal of additional stress and it is patronising in the extreme to suggest otherwise. However, the letter revealed the way in which the hospital dealt with complaints. It was simply a wash of warm words and made no attempt to deal with the issues behind the problem. It treated every cancellation as a separate issue, and nowhere did it recognise the need for systems to be in place to flag up the fact that one patient was experiencing many cancellations of his operation. Its failure to address that problem is another serious flaw in its management systems.

Let us look at why those cancellations took place. I have accumulated voluminous correspondence from the hospital, the strategic health authority and even from a civil servant at the Department of Health, all of which say that there are issues involving capacity at the hospital. That has the merit of being a good excuse, but unfortunately it has the demerit of not being true. There was only one occasion when it applied—on 29 May, when Mr. Ford's operation was cancelled because there were not enough beds in the intensive care unit. The reasons for the other cancellations were very different. On 22 March, the operation was cancelled because of sickness among theatre staff. We all recognise that hospital staff, like the rest of us, can become ill. I have endeavoured to ascertain how many staff were sick on this occasion and what grades they were. That is not because I want to point the finger at any individual for

31 Oct 2002 : Column 1106

being ill, but because questions are raised about the hospital's rostering and substitution arrangements in such an event. I was told in a parliamentary answer that five nurses were sick that day but that four worked overtime to compensate. All credit to them.

If the theatres were only one nurse short, what was happening on that day? What were the rostering arrangements? What arrangements were made to try to fill the gaps in theatre assistants? Most important, what action did the hospital take on that day on cancellations? Did it cancel the list for one theatre, or did it consider the clinical needs of all the patients on the list that day and take decisions accordingly? Did it perform a number of simple operations or were people graded on clinical priority? I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider these issues seriously.

The other reasons for cancellations were perhaps even more worrying. On 31 May and on 12 and 14 June, Mr. Ford's operations were cancelled because of outbreaks of methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus in the intensive care unit. We know that it is difficult to deal with MRSA. However, two outbreaks in the hospital in such a short time must raise queries about infection control procedures and hygiene procedures in use at the hospital.

The Association of Medical Microbiologists makes it clear how MRSA is to be controlled. That is by scrupulous hand washing, isolation of the patient where necessary and regular damp-dusting. I hope that my right hon. Friend will carefully examine the procedures that were undertaken by the hospital after the two outbreaks. What review of its hygiene procedures was put in place, and what changes has it made as a result?

The most worrying reason for cancellation, however, was on 13 May. Mr. Ford was listed for his operation, but before it could be carried out he needed a trans-oesophageal echocardiograph. That can be carried out only by a cardiologist or a trained anaesthetist. Yet the relevant consultant was away on this occasion, and it was known elsewhere in the hospital before the operation was scheduled that the consultant would be away. At best, that is a piece of gross incompetence. At worst, it is a case of booking someone in for an operation when it was known that it could not take place. I hope that the Minister will examine the issue seriously and ascertain what was going on in the hospital, where I know there have been queries about the management of waiting lists on other occasions, and ensure that it does not happen to other patients on further occasions.

I have said that Mr. Ford was let down by the management of the hospital. I hope that I have said enough to demonstrate that. However, he was let down in the management not only of his case but of the complaints that were made afterwards. The hospital did not take his complaint seriously. Instead, it denied the family information, or was very slow in coming back with information. On one occasion it even tried to blame the family for a number of the cancellations.

There was a cancellation that was separate from those that I have highlighted, when Mr. Ford developed an infection. His family called his GP, who made it clear that he would not be able to have the operation. The

31 Oct 2002 : Column 1107

family immediately telephoned the hospital to tell it so, so that somebody else could have Mr. Ford's slot, as it put it to me. For behaving responsibly, as we ask national health service patients to do, the family was accused by a member of staff of cancelling several operations. That is the culture that worries me. It appears that there was no culture in the hospital of examining complaints and learning from them.

All organisations can make mistakes, although in Mr. Ford's case there were serious mistakes. The least that could have been expected was for the hospital to examine its systems, to decide what went wrong and to ensure that it did not happen again. Instead, there was a passing of complaints down the line to junior staff, a failure to deal with them adequately and a failure to address what went wrong within the hospital system. A culture of arrogance prevailed not only in the trust, but in the strategic health authority.

I have already said that the trust will not answer questions from a Member of Parliament without signed authority. I have never come across that in a trust before, although I understand that that is left to the discretion of the chief executive. I think that the trust is legally wrong, and I asked the chief executive to give me his legal advice on the matter, but he declined to do so. In any case, I know that the Department of Health is looking at the problem. I hope that it will ensure at the very least that trusts cannot hide behind the Data Protection Act 1998 to avoid being accountable for their actions. I believe that that is what was happening in this case.

I encountered the same problems with the strategic health authority. When I got no joy from the hospital, I telephoned the chief executive of the strategic health authority to raise some issues with him. He was not available at the time, and I asked for a return call. Unfortunately, it took more than a month and two letters to the health authority before I got a return call. The chief executive, Mr. Goodwin, was then, in my view, extremely rude and aggressive. He was interested not in dealing with the complaint, but in getting rid of it. He even said to me in the course of the conversation that one of the problems was that

I hope that the Minister will make it clear that such an attitude is not acceptable from senior managers in the health service. It is a slur on all Members of all parties in the House and it is not a way of dealing with matters. If there are managers who deal with Members of Parliament like that, how on earth do they deal with patients?

I hope that the Minister will ensure that the problem is addressed in future. Our real difficulty is that managers in the NHS are not always held accountable for what they do. Doctors are accountable for their practice, as are nurses. Managers, unfortunately, can send a few anodyne letters and walk away. The Ford family cannot walk away. Mr. Ford is now seriously ill and his family face the burden of looking after him, as well as the additional stress imposed by the hospital's actions. I pay tribute to their tenacity in pursuing the case. Their only motivation has been to ensure that no family goes through the same problem again.

31 Oct 2002 : Column 1108

I hope that in his reply, my right hon. Friend, who I know will be as concerned about the case as I am, will ensure that proper investigations are carried out, that the necessary action to rectify the problems in the hospital is taken, and that the managers concerned are held accountable for what they do and are made to ensure that no family suffers in the same way in future.

Next Section

IndexHome Page