Cooper speaks out over Yorkshire health crisis

HEALTH ministers have been accused of 'shrugging their shoulders' and failing to 'get a grip' on a struggling hospital trust plagued by staff shortages.

Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.

Yvette Cooper warned that a lack of doctors and nurses at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust have left some wards with worrying holes in their staff numbers and a massive agency bill, an issue first raised by The Yorkshire Post.

And she told how an elderly lady who spent her final days in Pinderfields Hospital had to wait two hours for a bedpan and 25 hours to see a doctor at a weekend because staffing had become so bad.

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Alarmed at the shortages, her family “felt they could not leave her” and stayed by her bedside - feeding her, emptying her bedpan, and making sure her needs did not go unanswered.

Ms Cooper - the MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford - said she is “deeply, deeply concerned about the staffing levels not just at Mid Yorkshire Trust, but also at other hospitals across Yorkshire and our health service is being seriously affected”.

She added: “We have warned ministers about this before, but we are deeply concerned that nothing is still being done, and things will get worse if action is not taken.”

The former shadow home secretary said the Mid Yorkshire Trust apologised to the elderly woman’s family for her unacceptable care, but she warned patients are still raising “serious alarm” about the level of staffing on wards.

A Care Quality Commission inspection has rated the Trust’s safety levels as “inadequate” and said the Trust “requires improvement”.

Speaking in an adjournment debate in the Commons on the issue, Ms Cooper said: “When they (staff) are stretched in all different directions, in the end it is the patients that lose out, and the staff who also are deeply concerned that they are not able to provide the level of care that they want.”

She warned the Trust simply could not attract enough doctors and nurses, leaving vacancies unfilled and the trust with a large agency worker bill - spending £1.5 million on agency doctors a month.

She reeled off a long list of vacancies that afflict the trust, including 150 nursing posts that have not been filled, and warned that the cardiology department only had 76% of the staff it wants, while the stroke rehab is only at 65% of its planned staffing capacity.

Ms Cooper said: “What is the Government doing about this? Too often ministers are just shrugging their shoulders and thinking it is someone else’s problem or that someone else will sort it out.

“I contacted the Secretary of State in 2010 and 2011 to raise concern that the training numbers being set at that time by the Yorkshire Deanery, particularly from A&E, were not enough and certainly weren’t enough to meet rising demand at that time.

“But nothing was done. And given the scale of rising demand for healthcare and our aging population, far too few doctors are still being trained.

“And there is a significant and serious regional disparity with bigger shortages in the north and the Midlands.

“And I have to say it is frankly incomprehensible that given all of these pressures the Government would choose this moment to pick a major fight with junior doctors that ends up demoralising them or driving so many of them either to consider going abroad or to leave the profession altogether at a time when we really need every doctor that we can get.”

She called for a regional action plan, telling ministers: “Unless something is done, then something serious is going to happen to patient care.

“I don’t want to be warning again about this, just as we warned about this some years ago, and it still hasn’t been sorted, because it isn’t fair on patients across Yorkshire and across our area.”

She added: “For the sake of all of those patients and for all of those who we, all of us I know on all sides of the House will want to get the best possible care, I really, really urge health ministers to get a grip on this, get us the regional action plan we need, before patients’ safety is affected.”

Health minister Philip Dunne said the problem of staff shortages at Mid Yorkshire Trust is “well known”.

He added: “There are - there’s no hiding the fact - problems, and I’m not there to do so.

“Unsafe care was found in the most recent Care Quality Commission inspection last summer which was published in December last year and that’s clearly the most potentially serious of their findings.

“And this is a long way from being a high performing Trust, which is what we would all like to see our Trusts achieve.”

He said the Trust had taken “some action” to address staffing concerns, including recruiting more nurses and support staff, “but it has clearly not solved the problem” and more needs to be done.

Mr Dunne said a meeting with NHS providers, commissioners and the CQC will be held in September to discuss the issues.