Colchester hospital placed in special measures

Monitor regional director Adam Cayley said it had authority to make changes to the hospital board "if appropriate"

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A hospital being investigated by police over its cancer waiting times has been placed in special measures.

Health regulator Monitor acted after data "inaccuracies" meant Colchester General Hospital had breached its licence to provide health services.

The discrepancies were uncovered by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which found staff were "bullied" to alter figures.

Health trust chiefs said they would now be helped to make further improvements.

However, union leaders have called for a change in leadership and said there had been a "loss of confidence" in the trust's board.

'Immediate steps'

Start Quote

There is a need for a significant change of leadership and we look forward to working with the new regime”

End Quote Tracey Lambert Unison

The CQC report found staff were "pressured or bullied" to change information on patients and their treatment to make it seem people were being treated in line with national guidelines.

Monitor said its own formal investigation found the trust had breached its licence after the CQC said cancer care at the trust was inadequate.

It said it worked with CQC and NHS England to "ensure immediate steps were taken to safeguard cancer patients in the care of the trust", to start a review of what had caused the problems and to take action to prevent it happening again.

Dr Gordon Coutts Dr Gordon Coutts said the hospital was "truly sorry"

NHS England is working with the trust to conduct a review of the cancer services to assure patients that past practices complied with national standards.

Before the cancer waiting times inquiry, Colchester hospital had been part of the Keogh Review into trusts with higher-than-average mortality rates and had been put under enhanced scrutiny by Monitor.

It said it stopped short of putting it into special measures then, because the regulator was confident the trust leadership could tackle the issues raised at that stage.

'Already taken action'

However, a whistleblower came forward with concerns about the hospital's cancer pathway, which led to the CQC inspection and Sir Mike Richards, the chief inspector of hospitals, recommending the trust be put into special measures.

It was a fait accompli that Colchester General would be put into special measures.

The health and care regulator had already recommended earlier this month that it should, after finding evidence the hospital had tampered with the records of cancer patients to make waiting times look better.

The trust becomes the 13th body to face such a sanction this year.

The management of the hospital has not been replaced. Instead, bosses will be given a chance to get to the bottom of what has been happening - albeit with officials from outside the trust breathing down their necks.

But this is really just the start of the process.

Reviews are already under way into whether and on what scale patients were put at risk and why the trust did not stop it last year when it carried out an internal inquiry into concerns raised by a whistleblower.

Police are also looking at the issue. It promises to be a long road to redemption for Colchester.

Monitor regional director Adam Cayley, said: "The trust has been given an explicit set of actions to improve the service it offers patients.

"We will be monitoring progress closely and we will not hesitate to take further regulatory action if required.

"The leadership of the trust will be reviewed as part of our scrutiny of the trust's governance arrangements and, if necessary, further regulatory action will be taken."

Colchester Hospital's medical director Dr Sean MacDonnell told a public meeting of the trust board on Thursday that three members of staff had made the bullying or harassment allegations.

The hospital has so far contacted 29 of the 30 cancer patients, or their families, named by the CQC, he added.

More than 200 calls have been made to a special helpline set up in the wake of the CQC report.

Health trust chief executive Dr Gordon Coutts added that it had "already taken action" and its priority was the safety and well-being of patients.

"The additional advice and support that we will receive as a result of the announcement by Monitor will help us to make the improvements that are needed quickly and effectively," he said.

"Pairing us with another Trust will also provide the opportunity to have a fresh pair of eyes to look at our services."

Unison had said its members told executive directors last year they were being bullied into falsifying data, but the matter was not dealt with.

Its regional head of health, Tracey Lambert, added: "The trust board has lost the confidence of patients and the public in north-east Essex and people want to see strong, positive action to improve health care at the hospital.

"There is a need for a significant change of leadership and we look forward to working with the new regime."

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