IT’S been a tumultuous year for the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, but there is a glimmer of light for 2016 after 12 months of downward spiral.
Back in March four consultants in the Accident & Emergency department quit over plans from Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust (WAHT) that would, they said, amount to an effective downgrade of emergency care at the hospital.
Elsewhere a fifth consultant also resigned from Worcestershire Royal.
The doctors said the plans would result in little more than a minor injuries unit with GP service and little in the way of emergency care.
This was important because, without major trauma cases arriving at the Alex it couldn’t be used as a training hospital for new medics, which would have a knock on effect on other departments.
The doctors said that what was proposed was neither an A&E service, nor a safe service – words that would become prophetic….
The CQC carried out a snap inspection of the emergency departments at the Alex and Worcestershire Royal and their findings made uncomfortable reading for health chiefs, raising a number of fundamental health care issues, however the Alex came out well ahead of its larger, sister hospital.
The fall out from the resignation took over all of April leading to, in May, a high level Risk Summit over abnormally high deaths in surgery at the hospital.
Also in May cyclist Nigel Braithwaite said surgeons at the Alex saved his life after an ambulance crew, taking him to Worcester after he was hit by a van, decided he wouldn’t survive the 18 mile trip to Worcestershire Royal and so turned back.
Meanwhile a march organised by Save the Alex campaigners brought thousands of protesters out onto the streets of Redditch.
In June the West Midlands Clinical Senate rejected WAHT’s clinical model for the Alex as ‘unsustainable’ leading local GPs to declare ‘enough is enough’ and call for patients to use Birmingham hospitals instead of Worcester.
After all, a short train ride away to the north was a leading European hospital with an international reputation for quality (the QE) while a torturous 18 mile car journey to the south was Worcestershire Royal.
By July figures had emerged showing WAHT was spending £1 million a month on temporary staff and going ever deeper into the red – by December debts had hit £61 million and were expected to go out to £64 million or more as winter hit. Health watchdogs the Care Quality Commission also carried out an inspection of the trust.
In August campaigners were left aghast after a long running inquiry into alleged bullying of staff at WAHT declared that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to suggest it was ‘endemic’. Also in August WAHT announced, after 5pm on a Friday, that emergency gynaecology cases would move from the Alex to Worcester for a few days, this was later extended until February.
In September our reporter discovered it would take a five hour round trip to get to Worcestershire Royal for their annual meeting. She had to change trains at University, home of the QE Hospital before catching another train south to get to the county town.
In October the highly regarded Health Service Journal revealed an outbreak of infections in the endoscopy unit at the Alex.
In November the Trust announced the closure of the maternity unit at the Alex and its transfer to to Worcester – again, another announcement made after 5pm on a Friday. The closure will now not be reviewed until February.
By this time WAHT was punch drunk: It hadn’t hit its four hour waiting time in A&E for 13 months, was struggling to recruit staff, and hang on to them, had high sickness levels and was spending millions of pounds on temporary nurses and doctors.
Into all this came the results of the CQC inspection in July which highlighted, among many issues including overcrowding, safety issues, a high mortality rate and the lack of stability amongst senior managers. The Trust was so bad, it branded it as inadequate and called for it to be put into special measures so it could be paired with other, high performing trusts.
Meanwhile civic leaders, led by the leader of Redditch Borough Council Councillor Bill Hartnett and the local MP Karen Lumley, and supported by the leader of Bromsgrove district council, Coun Margaret Sherry and Chris Saint, leader of Stratford DC, and backed by Sajid Javid MP and Nadhim Zahawi MP held top level talks with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for action over the future of the health services at the Alex.
This later evolved into a letter to Mr Hunt, NHS England and the Trust Development Authority asking for the break up of the Trust to be investigated to ensure the people of Redditch, Alcester, Studley and Alvechurch get the health services they deserve.
As a result the MPs have been promised a ‘transformation’ in health care in north Worcestershire, to be discussed at a meeting in January 2016.
Despite this though the year ended on a downbeat note with the news that Dr Jonathan Wells, chairman of the Redditch and Bromsgrove Clinical Commissioning Group, the GP body for the area, would not be standing again due to the pressures of the role.
Neal Stote, chairman of Save the Alex on hearing the news, said: “The Alex has lost a champion” and referring to Harry Turner, chairman of WAHT who has hung on doggedly throughout the year, he added that the wrong man had gone.