Hospital chief under fire after telling staff to discharge patients to keep inspectors happy

South Tyneside Hospital
South Tyneside Hospital

A HOSPITAL chief has come under fire for telling staff to focus on discharging patients ahead of an inspection,

Steve Williamson, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s chief operating officer, sent an e-mail out to staff last week about performance targets and building issues.

Some of it is out of our control, but we are being asked to ensure patients are discharged to make everything look good.

He signed off the e-mail, leaked to the Gazette by an employee, by reminding workers that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will be at South Tyneside District Hospital, in South Shields, next week and asking for a strong focus to be kept on discharge planning.

The worker, who does not wish to be named, claims the e-mail is encouraging staff at the Harton Lane hospital to “put on a good show” for inspectors.

They said: “It almost feels like we are being coached into putting a good show on.

“Discharge planning is a challenge at the best of times, but a lot of that is to do with social services not having the capacity in place or families not being familiar with the process.

“Some of it is out of our control, but we are being asked to ensure patients are discharged to make everything look good.”

The e-mail reads: “Please could I ask that we keep a strong focus over the next week on our discharge planning for the coming bank holiday weekend, so we go into it in the best possible shape and, therefore, start our CQC inspection visit in the best possible way.

“In support of this, where relevant, please could I ask you to use your daily huddles next week to focus on estimated discharge dates and robust planning for the following weekend.”

Labour’s general election candidate for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, says the difficulties hospitals face in discharging patients are because of Government cuts to the social care budget.

She said: “This is typical of the situation in our health service under this Government, with overworked staff under huge pressure because David Cameron won’t give our NHS the investment it needs.”

Mr Williamson said: “Patient safety is our top priority in all we do, including discharge planning, and there is absolutely no suggestion that, in any circumstances, patients should be discharged from South Tyneside District Hospital unless they are medically fit.

“It is common practice to focus on discharge planning prior to a weekend, particularly the longer bank holiday weekends, when capacity in the community, such as in GP surgeries and pharmacies, and in social care support is reduced.

“By looking ahead, we determine what our capacity is likely to be and plan accordingly.

“We are not working any differently in preparation for the four-day, new-style visit planned next week by the CQC, for which we have been told to expect more than 60 of their inspectors on site.”

Marion Langley, a branch secretary for public-sector union Unison, said: “I have first-hand experience that patients aren’t being rushed out, as both my mother and my husband have received treatment very recently at the hospital.

“I would be the first to complain if I thought this was the case.”

Jake Turnbull, a regional spokesman for the Royal College of Nursing, believes the importance placed on patient discharge is because of a national funding issue.

He said: “A recent report has shown that nationally the NHS is under increasing pressure and waiting times are getting worse as the financial situation becomes ever more difficult.

“It’s a national funding issue that needs addressing as a matter of urgency, and the sheer scale of the problem is going to be a challenge for whoever forms the next government.”

Twitter: @ShieldsGazVez