‘It was horrendous, we did not really cope’ - Peterborough hospital chief describes his toughest winter

Stephen Graves
Stephen Graves
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The strain of last winter’s “horrendous” NHS crisis was laid bare by the outgoing chief executive of Peterborough City Hospital who said he had never experienced anything like it before.

Stephen Graves admitted the hospital in Bretton “did not really cope” with the crisis and that the struggles felt “never-ending.”

Answering questions at Peterborough City Council’s Health and Scrutiny Committee on Monday evening, Mr Graves said: “The NHS, including us in Peterborough and Hinchingbrooke, did not really cope. In nine years as a chief executive and 15 years as a chief executive or director, I have not experienced anything like last winter.

“I do not think anybody wants to experience anything like it again. It was never-ending and incredibly difficult for patients and incredibly difficult for staff.

“I could beat around the bush but we all saw the evidence on television.

“It was not only difficult inside the hospital but for patients and families outside.

“It was difficult to release ambulances to get the next patients.

“What we did last winter was put in 12 beds extra in. It turned out not to be enough.

“We relied on delayed transfers of care coming down - and I’m not interested in whose responsibility it is - but they did not come down.

“It was horrendous, it was tough. It was tough on the ambulance service. I wish I could give you a different story, but I can’t.”

Winter pressures at the hospital, as documented by the Peterborough Telegraph, included the region’s ambulance service losing more than 800 hours in one month from handing over patients at the hospital, while just 73.64 per cent of emergency patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours at Peterborough and Hinchingbrooke hospital A&E departments in the last three months of 2017/18 - well below the national target of 95 per cent.

Mr Graves was addressing councillors on the need to find up to 206 new beds at Peterborough City Hospital by 2026, which includes converting the fourth floor offices into wards.

Schemes underway already include converting side rooms into beds.

The chief executive, who will retire once his successor is appointed, said doctors were being trained up to fill the new wards but that it takes years to reach a high level of seniority, which was why there was a need to recruit more from overseas.

On that point, he recently he co-signed a letter to the Prime Minister to scrap limits on overseas doctors, with the cap now being removed.

He also revealed a training team has gone to the Philippines for the second time this year to recruit, but that the standard of English overseas nurses require to be allowed to work in the NHS is at a level between a degree and Masters.

He added: “It’s a level that the majority of us would fail.”

Mr Graves, chief executive of the North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, was also asked about new beds at Stamford and Rutland Hospital which the trust manages.

The trust has vacant land which can be developed on.

He replied: “We’ve already had quite a lot of interest from nursing type providers. We are likely to see more beds but not NHS beds.”