The new boss of Peterborough City Hospital has pledged to “put the patient first” and find solutions to the tough challenges facing the troubled health complex.
Businessman and charity founder Robert Hughes was appointed chairman of Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, in January and started the role earlier this month.
The 56-year-old is the former managing director of Mars Food UK and is also chairman of the charity Anna’s Hope, which he founded with his wife, Carole, following the death of their three-year-old daughter Anna in 2006 following a brain tumour.
Mr Hughes said: “My background involves putting the customer first and that’s what I want to do here.
“I want patients to have confidence that they will receive the best care here - that’s my mission and that’s what I will be held accountable for.
“If we put patients first then we will deliver the best possible service we can.
“And I also want patients to tell us their experiences here - good and bad - that’s the sort of culture I want to create.”
He added: “My background is in business but I have spent a lot of time in hospitals, getting to know how they work.
“I have looked at hospitals from a patient’s perspective, which I think will give me a good platform to work from.”
Mr Hughes is starting his role as health watchdog Monitor draws up an action plan to help tackle the hospital’s £45million deficit.
At the root of the hospital’s problems is the private finance initiative signed in 2007 to secure the funds to build the £289 million hospital.
The repayments on the loan will cost the trust £40 million a year for 30 years and the amount has been deemed as unaffordable by health authorities.
The decision to sign the PFI was severely criticised by MPs on the House of Commons public accounts committee last year.
It is expected that Monitor will have little choice but to recommend that the taxpayer must help keep the hospital afloat for the next 30 years with an annual Government bailout.
Mr Hughes said: “I await Monitor’s findings with interest - they are bringing a fresh perspective to our financial position.
“In my experience, you can analyse a situation over and over until you are exhausted and end up not getting anywhere.
“So I hope that with Monitor’s help we can come up with new solutions and start to move forward.”
The hospital also faced criticism during a very busy February which saw operations cancelled and the 611-bed venue run out of empty beds.
The option of turning office space on the building’s fourth floor into new wards is already being considered.
Mr Hughes said: “This hospital was built to make use of the fourth floor, so it is a real option for us.
“What happened in February is not a unique problem to Peterborough, it has happened around the country, but we can not sit back - we are actively looking at solutions.
“The population of Peterborough is growing and it will have an impact on us.
“I’d much rather see my office on the fourth floor moved or down-sized if it means helping our patients.
“We are also still looking into the option of getting electric buggies to transform patients from the hospital entrance to some of the wards, it’s something I would like to see.”
Mr Hughes was appointed to the non-executive role on the trust board following a rigorous recruitment and selection programme.
Originally from Sunderland, and living in Pilsgate, near Stamford, he hopes his vast managerial experience will prove beneficial in his new role.
He said: “I am used to running large organisations and dealing with people.
“I was at Mars for 11 years, when I joined the company did not have a very healthy reputation. When I left 95 per cent of our products were made from natural ingredients.
“That happened because I was determined to get the company to deliver a great product.
“Here at Peterborough hospital we have some an excellent staff and my mission remains the same - to deliver a great product.”
In his first few weeks in the job Mr Hughes has ‘scrubbed in’ to theatres and spent a day working behind the scenes in the hospital’s outpatient department.
He has also helped out on one of the orthopaedic wards and the children’s ward, as well as experiencing a day in the life of a porter, met catering staff and worked on the facilities service desk.
Mr Hughes, who plans to cycle to and from work, added: “The hospital is a big site but I want to get to know as many people here as possible.
“Again, I want to create a culture of openness, where everyone is pushing in the same direction. I’ve been made to feel very welcome by everyone and I look forward to meeting more staff and patients in the coming weeks.
“I would also like to thank my predecessor Nigel Hards for the excellent job he did.
“I see a very strong management team in place, ready to face the challenges ahead.”
Mark Bush, lead governor and vice chairman of the trust’s Council of Governors, said: “We are very pleased to welcome Rob to the trust and we look forward to benefitting from his business expertise.
Trust interim chief executive Dr Peter Reading also welcomed Mr Hughes to the trust.
He said: “Rob will be joining us at what is a challenging time for Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals.
“I am looking forward to working with him to ensure we continue to provide the best care for our patients while working more efficiently in order to save costs.”
Factfile on finances
Cash-strapped Peterborough City Hospital will stay open, health chiefs have previously vowed, despite needing a huge bail out from the public purse.
It is estimated it could cost the taxpayer £500,000 a week for 30 years to keep the Bretton hospital afloat.
But Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson said in February that he had been given a pledge by the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt that the £289-million hospital in Bretton will not close.
Earlier this year health watchdog Monitor announced it had appointed professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to carry out an indepth review into the best way to help the ailing hospital.
It is thought the review will cost the taxpayer up to £3 million.