Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Parking the main issue as UHNS Chief meets local residents.

UHNS Chief Executive Mark Hackett met with members of the Hartshill and Basford PACT group on Monday night to hear the views of local residents.

It was my first encounter with Mr Hackett and after the antics of some of his colleagues the previous Wednesday I wasn’t, to say the least, disposed towards being generous to senior managers with the NHS. A point of view I found myself revising as the evening progressed.

First impressions seemed to confirm my prejudice; Mark Hackett breezed into the Nadim lecture theatre at the North Staffordshire Medical Institute looking every inch the sleek, suited chief executive with an old school tie and an air of self- importance.

The narrative he gave of his life and career to date provided the first clue that I should be a little less eager to jump to the first conclusion that came my way. Born in Kidderminster and educated at the local comp and then the LSE he said he had worked for the NHS since he was twenty one because he wanted to ‘give something back’ in return for the good education he’d received. Not sentiments you’d imagine most health bureaucrats expressing; it’s usually Eton and Oxbridge all the way with a side order of entitlement.

He went on to say he’d held four chief executive positions at different hospitals around the country before coming to Stoke, the last of these being in Southampton. Health services in Staffordshire were, he said, in need of leadership, and how since the UHNS treat a number of patients equivalent to the population of the entire city every year and the workload will only grow as services formerly based at the beleaguered Stafford Hospital move to Stoke.

Mr Hackett gave an outline of his ‘vision’ for the future of UHNS, saying that he wanted the hospital to become a world class provider of healthcare by 2025, making it the ‘best place for people to work, learn and do research.’ The focus on research would, he said, bring between £10million and £15milllion in extra funding over the coming decade.

This would make UHNS a centre for best practice bringing improved patient care delivered by highly motivated staff at the very top of their game. The hospital was, he said, already saving more lives than the national average and had a nurse to patient ration of six to one; good going by another national average.

Investment was also being made in stroke services, cardiology and buying new MRT and CT scanners. The hospital had taken a hit in recent months over waiting times in A&E, but, Mr Hackett said, patients rated the care they received as ‘good’. What was needed, he said, was for the public to be encouraged to use alternatives to A&E whenever possible.

All this was pretty much par for the course, you’d expect the chief executive of any large organisation to be able to run through the list of its achievements and recite the ‘vision’ for its future even if shaken awake in the middle of the night. What made Mr Hackett’s offering different was that it was a presentation rather than a speech and as such comfortingly dull and probably delivered straight.

There was none of the ‘spin’ I’d sat through the previous Wednesday, at no stage was one of his colleagues brought up to the lectern to emote in a cynical attempt to ‘connect’ with we little people. Incidentally Mr Hackett is rumoured not to be the biggest fan of the CCG’s plans for reforming cancer care.

He gave a, mostly, assured performance when the floor was opened to questions, the biggest of which was that of parking around the UNHS site. A shortage of places has driven staff, patients and visitors out into the surrounding streets with the sort of chaos you might expect. To his credit Mr Hackett listened patiently to several people making the same point with varying degrees of frustration and promised that the hospital management had plans in hand to put on more shuttle busses for staff and to open up additional parking spaces on the site of the old central outpatients.

Challenged about long waiting times for admission, nine hours in the experience of one questioner, he initially disappeared behind a smokescreen of acronyms. AMU, SAU, MAU; et al are pretty baffling for a reasonably healthy scribbler to grasp, someone who is sick and scared would be utterly bewildered. That said his promise to look into and try to improve the system seemed genuinely given.

His one big misstep came when asked about the campaign to keep services from being moved from Stafford to the UHNS, he said most of the public supported the move apart from a small but ‘vocal’ campaign group. The issues are rather more complicated than that and have as much to do with the idea of having an NHS that is free for all as what gets done where.

This aside Mark Hackett did seem to be genuinely interested in engaging with the public, as opposed to handing down his pronouncements and expecting us all to be suitably grateful. That is sufficiently rare in senior NHS managers for him to be given the benefit of the doubt by even the most cynical observers.

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