Ex-Cardiff hospital boss Russell Hopkins says NHS a 'mess'

Russell Hopkins is a former hospital manager, surgeon and BMA Wales chairman

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A former general manager of Wales' largest hospital has condemned the state of the NHS, claiming politicians and managers have "messed it up".

Russell Hopkins, who used to manage the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, was left with bladder and nerve damage after an operation in the area in 2011.

He chose to speak out because he claims patients' lives are "endangered".

Cardiff and Vale health board offered "unreserved apologies once again" to Mr Hopkins for his distress.

Mr Hopkins, now living in Newport, Pembrokeshire, is a former consultant oral maxillofacial surgeon at the University Hospital of Wales, and a former chair of the British Medical Association in Wales.

He is one of eight consultants who wrote to the Daily Telegraph calling for the proper staffing of NHS wards at weekends.

Start Quote

I'm angry for what has happened to the profession and I'm angry for the patients”

End Quote Russell Hopkins Former surgeon

He underwent hip surgery at Llandough Hospital near Cardiff in 2011, during which he said a spinal anaesthetic caused a bleed in his spinal column.

"When you get things like that you have got to be decompressed within eight to 12 hours at best - certainly within 24 hours - to relieve the pressure," he told BBC Wales.

"I didn't see a senior doctor despite me telling the nurses there were things wrong.

"Nobody paid any attention until my daughter - who's a hospital consultant - rang up from London and said 'what's wrong with my father'?"

Mr Hopkins said it was four days before he was seen by a consultant.

By the time he was investigated, he said a spinal surgeon told him: "There's no point in doing it."

As a result, Mr Hopkins said he suffered urinary problems which meant "I have been disabled in my plumbing."

He says problems are occurring throughout the NHS "fundamentally because some consultants" - not all - "are no longer looking after their patients in the way they used to do because there's a timetable system in place - the management will pay for that, but nothing else".

He added: "You cannot timetable a doctor to see how Mr Bloggs is doing because that's not on the timetable. It would have to be done in their own time.

"An increasing amount have stopped going to see their patients post-operation, and are leaving it to juniors."

Mr Hopkins said he was seen by a junior doctor after his operation and "the junior doctor didn't spot it".

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We are working very hard with our staff and surgical teams to put in place systems which mean there are always experienced colleagues available”

End Quote Cardiff and Vale University Health Board

"I'm not embittered, because I'm not that sort of chap," he added.

"But I have been angry with the health service for some time. The politicians have messed it up."

He said he wanted members of the public to know about his experience because he felt as someone with his experience could be affected so could others.

A spokesperson for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said: "As a health board, we understand how frustrating and upsetting it is for patients when things don't go right, because we share that frustration.

"We are working very hard with our staff and surgical teams to put in place systems which mean there are always experienced colleagues available.

"While we can't comment in detail on the case of Mr Hopkins, we are aware of his concerns and have been in communication with him on the issues he raises.

"We would like to take this opportunity to offer our unreserved apologies once again to Mr Hopkins for the distress he and his family have experienced."

Mr Hopkins said "horrendous stories" about the NHS were reported every day, adding: "The damage done in the last 20 years in the profession has endangered patients.

"I'm angry for what has happened to the profession and I'm angry for the patients."

The three solutions, he says, are firstly to train undergraduates on the wards, shadowing doctors, as well as nurses, who he says "don't do any active clinical work during their three years of training".

Working time directives also have to be addressed, he says, because "if you do shift work you get a scenario where people might say 'it's not my problem, I'm off'."

Russell Hopkins Mr Hopkins' experience was raised by surgeons in a letter to the Daily Telegraph

Finally, he says something needs to be done to improve the professionalism of consultants because "the politicians and managers are destroying the professional values. It's about checking boxes, targets and numbers".

Mr Hopkins is one of the doctors and surgeons who wrote a joint letter to the Telegraph.

Referring to Mr Hopkins's case, the letter says: "The after-care of a hip operation failed him catastrophically, the NHS repaying a lifetime of service with negligence and long-term disability."

It adds: "We, the other signatories, are experienced consultants who share his analysis of how the system failed him and why it fails so many others."

The Welsh government said in a statement: "Every year, the NHS in Wales cares for thousands of patients safely and effectively, and the vast majority are entirely satisfied with their care.

"Cardiff and Vale University Health Board has already responded to Mr Hopkins' specific claims."

The letter from surgeons came as proposals are unveiled which mean hospitals in England would have to ensure senior doctors and key diagnostic tests are available seven days a week under new plans.

The measures form part of a vision unveiled by NHS England to tackle the higher death rates at weekends.

The changes, proposed by medical director Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, will be applied to urgent and emergency services over the next three years.

It comes after a year-long inquiry into NHS care in England following concerns over higher death rates on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Welsh government said health boards and council social services have produced joint plans for the first time this year to manage winter pressures, while an government official did not rule out seven day working as part of an overhaul.

Dr Grant Robinson, the Welsh government's clinical lead for unscheduled care, said radical changes were needed to the system.

"Sometimes there are some big game changers - seven day working is a radical change that as the potential to help," he said.

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