TWO former hospital governors are calling for top bosses at the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust to be sacked after a major review exposed staff shortages and a failure to handle complaints properly.
NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh’s report into standards of hospital care demanded urgent action be taken to address “inadequate qualified nurse staffing levels on some wards” at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley and the Trust’s failure to learn lessons from serious incidents and complaints.
The probe, which focused on 14 Trusts with higher than expected death rates over the last two years, branded the Dudley Group’s complaints procedure “not fit for purpose” and said safety processes including equipment checks were not consistently applied.
The Trust, however, is among three out of the 14 investigated that has avoided being placed in special measures.
Some urgent issues have already been addressed, according to the Keogh review, and Trust staff are credited with being "committed to providing great care" but it called for improved clinical leadership and better communication.
Former hospital governors Bill Etheridge and Major Robins, however, say senior Dudley Group managers should be sacked for presiding over such failings.
Dudley and Halesowen UKIP campaigner Mr Etheridge, who quit his governor’s role earlier this year after disagreeing with plans to hike up parking charges, said: “The people running that hospital must face the consequences of their failure and they must be removed from their positions.”
Mr Etheridge also branded the board of governors “a completely meaningless organisation” and said it should be scrapped and replaced with an elected health board with the power to scrutinise decisions.
His calls were echoed by UKIP Stourbridge chairman Major Robins, who resigned after just six months as a governor - saying they were “treated as rubber stampers” and were unable to raise issues relating to operational matters.
He said the Dudley Group had been “let off the hook” following the review and added: “It needs a government team putting in for the time being until they can re-establish themselves.
“There should be enquiries demanding sackings not resignations and they should not be employed by any NHS board ever again.
“If you have someone on £180,000 – being paid around £40,000 more than the Prime Minister – surely if they fail they ought to be sacked not told to try and improve. It’s ridiculous.”
The Trust must now complete a detailed plan addressing the main failings and progress will be monitored by a local Quality Surveillance Group and a follow up review undertaken later this year.
Chief executive Paula Clark welcomed the findings of the Keogh review and said she was “pleased” independent regulator Monitor had confidence in her and her management team to steer the Dudley Group forward.
She said: "The review team did not find any areas of major concern that warranted further escalation. This is testament to the hard work and commitment of all our staff and the pride they take in delivering the best possible care to our patients.
"The review has been one of the most far reaching and detailed the Trust has ever experienced and it gives us confidence that we are providing good quality of care, whilst recognising the areas where we can do better."
Ms Clark said the Trust was awaiting the results of a new assessment of required nursing levels for increasing dependency of patients but it currently has at least one qualified nurse for every eight beds.
She added: "We have spent £7.5 million on nurse staffing in the last three years and £700,000 is going into the budget for this year. We are currently advertising for 18 new nurses."
Ms Clark said the Trust has also reviewed its complaints procedure, adding: "Listening to our patients is at the centre of everything we do and we have a robust mechanism for capturing patient feedback.
"I have an open door policy and I’m always happy to meet with complainants."
However it took months before retired Stourton headteacher Enid Saunders was offered a meeting with Ms Clark to discuss a catalogue of concerns over the death of her husband Fred whom the hospital later admitted had been cared for by a nurse who “did not have the experience” to handle the situation.
And the parents of eight-year-old Wordsley schoolboy Owen Jeremy, who died at Russells Hall in May 2012 following an asthma attack, say they were never able to schedule a meeting with Ms Clark despite highlighting serious concerns about the Trust's treatment of bereaved relatives.
Stourbridge MP Margot James said she was "very reassured, but not surprised" the Dudley Group had not been placed in special measures as a result of Sir Bruce's findings.
She said since she was elected in 2010 she has received 38 direct complaints about Russells Hall but she added: "In view of the large numbers of my constituents who attend one of the Dudley hospitals every day I do not consider this to be a large number of complaints, harrowing though some of the examples I see most certainly are."
Dudley South MP Chris Kelly said publication of the Keogh review marked an important day for the NHS and added: "Only with complete transparency and honesty about problems, followed by decisiveness in sorting them out, can we restore trust in our NHS in Dudley and across the country."