THE level of compensation claims and complaints against crisis-hit Southend Hospital rocketed over the past year.
Legal writs against the trust shot up from 52 in 2012/13 to 80 in the last financial year – a 54 per cent rise.
The stark rises are the latest in a string of problems to hit the troubled hospital, including an A&E waiting time crisis, staff leaving in droves, missed performance targets and claims of bullying.
Concern was raised at yesterday’s board meeting that the trust has no handle on why complaints and claims are rising.
David Parkins, a non-executive director, argued: “We have heard nothing of where the increase is coming from or how we respond to it.”
Cheryl Schwarz, associate director of nursing, said: “A 30 per cent increase in complaints gives us an excellent opportunity to understand what patients want us to improve and to use these golden nuggets for learning and improvement.”
Excellent opportunity: Cheryl Schwarz
There are 131 live claims against the hospital, some dating back a number of years, including the 80 launched over the last 12 months.
Official complaints about clinical errors, communication, staff attitudes and other problems also rose from 663 to 883 – 33 per cent – over the same period.
Meanwhile, the number of patients contacting the patient advisory and liaison service at the hospital with concerns, which are not logged as official complaints, rose from 1,162 to 1,956 – 68 per cent.
An NHS trouble-shooter has also been drafted in to try to bring A&E waiting times back in line.
Trust bosses heard yesterday Claire Old, a former nurse with 35 years’ NHS experience and who has sat on Department of Health policy panels, has been appointed to the newly created role of director of emergency care.
They also discussed at the board meeting the need to get on top of why complaints were on the rise and learn from mistakes.
Snapshot: Chief executive Jacqueline Totterdell
Chief executive Jacqueline Totterdell asked if trusts across the country had seen a similar increase and suggested it was just a “snapshot” and new procedures had led to “teething problems”.
Steve McEwen, head of patient experience, said “anecdotal evidence”
suggested they had, due to a rise in complaints after the highly publicised Keogh Review.
However, figures to back this up were not ready.
He said there had been an increase in complaints during the winter as expected due to more pressure on services like A&E.
Neil Rothrie, medical director, said the trust must analyse if more complaints did mean a worse service.
He said: “Does this rise represent us getting worse and the care getting worse as a result?
We need to analyse the link more directly.”
Poor reflection: Alan Tobias
Chairman Alan Tobias suggested targets did not often reflect the actual quality of care and they had to compare the level of complaints against patient safety.
Analysis of why complaints are up will be presented to the board at a later date.
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THE medicine department saw the most complaints, with 195 patients or relatives writing in.
This was followed by 138 in musko skeletal and 125 surgeryrelated cases.
A&E had 115 complaints, mostly about staff attitude and treatment and diagnosis.
In March, the trust again missed its target of 95 per cent of all patients being seen within four hours. Only 85 per cent of patients were seen in that time and it has only hit the target during two weeks since the start of December.
The board heard separate targets for all cancer patients to receive treatment within 62 days, breast cancer patients within 14 days and general referrals for treatment taking place within 18 weeks were all missed in March.
Over the same period the trust received 1,406 compliments from patients and 725 comments cards, 725 of which were positive.
TRUST bosses had to cancel several operations after a ventilation system failed in an operating theatre.
The incident in February, which was reported to the board, meant some patients had to be sent to private hospitals for treatments.
Shutdown: The ventilation system failed in an operating theatre
The board heard that the ventilation system, which prevents the risk of infection, was supposed to be repaired in the summer but failed months earlier.
Concerns were raised that the hospital is not quickly spending enough on maintaining and improving the aging hospital even though cash is available.
There is a £2.7million underspend on a backlog of maintenance jobs, with no real explanation as to why it was not done.
David Parks, a non-executive director, said: “The operating theatre maintenance was not carried out in a timely fashion and that led to a loss in income.
“We can’t afford to be in a position where we are not spending money we have got available to improve patient care.”
The meeting heard Colin Cadwallader, interim director of estates, who was responsible for maintenance, left the trust yesterday with his deputy covering the post until a new director is recruited.