Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Exclusive: CQC report 'like knife in heart', says Hinchingbrooke chief nurse


The “inadequate” rating given to Hinchingbrooke hospital by healthcare inspectors was a “knife in the heart” for nurses who work there, according to its director of nursing.

In an interview with Nursing Times, Deirdre Fowler stressed her deep disappointment with the Care Quality Commission’s conclusions, after Hinchingbrooke Health and Care Trust became the first NHS provider to be rated “inadequate” for how caring it was towards patients.

“When we hear the CQC has concerns about the nursing staff being caring that is a knife in the heart for any nurse or midwife”

Deirdre Fowler

In its report, the CQC identified examples of patients who could not reach call bells, with one telling inspectors they had soiled themselves waiting for assistance, and that drinks were also often left out of reach.

“It doesn’t reflect what I see on a day to day basis walking around the hospital,” said Ms Fowler. “The majority of our nurses are caring, committed and dedicated nurses. When we hear the CQC has concerns about the nursing staff being caring that is a knife in the heart for any nurse or midwife.

“We will use the report as an opportunity to focus our minds on the quality improvements ahead of us, but obviously we are very disappointed,” she told Nursing Times.

It subsequently recommended the Cambridgeshire trust be placed in special measures, the support scheme for failing organisations.

Just hours before, the independent provider that runs the trust, Circle Partnership, had announced it would be pulling out of its controversial 10-year contract.

Ms Fowler admitted Circle’s decision to leave was “startling”, but said there was “a spirit of resilience” at the trust that would enable it to move forward.

However, union representatives have warned the trust could face a mass exodus of staff in the light of the double whammy of the CQC’s criticisms and Circle’s unexpected decision to withdraw.

Hinchingbrooke Health and Care Trust

Deirdre Fowler

“The mood is one of shock,” said Karen Webb, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing’s Eastern region. “There’s now a lot of anxiety and worry about what the future holds for the hospital, particularly around the security of people’s jobs,” she said.

Ms Webb said nurses had told her they were “appalled” by the CQC report, but it was “tinged with anger and disappointment” over ongoing staffing issues. “They are feeling very much blamed for a situation they don’t believe is of their making,” said Ms Webb.

“They are saying in some ways the quality issues are in part due to fact there are just not enough qualified nurses who are permanent members of staff to give the care patients deserve and require,” she told Nursing Times.

Ms Fowler agreed that, like many other trusts up and down the country, the organisation had struggled to recruit to substantive posts but claimed its staffing situation was under control.

Currently the trust has about 40 whole-time equivalent nurse vacancies and a 10% turnover in nursing staff, which has come down from 13% in the last six months.

“There’s now a lot of anxiety and worry about what the future holds for the hospital, particularly around job security”

Karen Webb

Ms Fowler said there was already a clear recruitment plan in place, following a review of existing nursing and midwifery establishments. This had identified a need for more healthcare assistants and the board had also agreed to invest £1.2m in nursing teams, which Ms Fowler said “will hopefully see us come to full recruitment in June”.

Ms Fowler, who joined the trust last May, said she did not anticipate significant staff losses as a result of recent events. “One thing I have been incredibly impressed with since I arrived is the staff loyalty in Hinchingbrooke,” she said.

She noted positive changes that had taken place since the CQC visit, including the creation of a “specialist nurse congress” – quarterly meetings between specialist nurses and the senior nursing team – and the introduction of seven-day working for senior nurse managers.

“We now have a designated senior nurse at weekends to make sure the quality agenda is maintained,” said Ms Fowler.

She highlighted that her key priorities were to raise the profile of nurses and midwives within the trust, and “maintaining morale in a period of intense activity and challenge in the NHS”.

Royal College of Nursing

Karen Webb

However, the RCN has stressed the need for better communication and information during the transition to new management arrangements, while Circle completes its withdrawal. Ms Webb said there were fears the hospital could close altogether or lose its A&E.

She claimed transparency had been “completely lacking” since the start of the “whole sorry business of handing over an NHS trust to an independent provider”. However, Ms Webb said she was hopeful the relationships would improve after a positive discussion with Ms Fowler, who has committed to ensuring good communication with staff.

Circle took over the struggling hospital in early 2012, after winning the first franchise involving a private company running an NHS acute provider. It has become a totem for private sector involvement in the health service.

But on 9 January Circle chief executive Steve Melton said that “after considerable thought and with great regret” the company had concluded that its involvement in Hinchingbrooke “does not have a sustainable future in its existing form”.


Readers' comments (17)

  • privatisation at its best!!!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The question is, are staffing issues down to a single point - who would want to work for a privatised hospital with all the uncertainty (which wasn't unfounded as it happens) that goes with that? I'll bet anyone embarking on a nursing or other healthcare career or with more than a handful of years left to work would have been far more likely to want to work in a standard NHS setup, compounding any recruitment issues.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • No good worrying about the fate of the hospital or job security now.
    If there are complaints that can be backed up, it is no good any nurse complaining about the situation.
    If the matron doesn't see it happening whilst
    "walking around the hospital" on a day to day basis, it is probably because she is wearing blinkers. Open up your eyes and let the sun shine in. Need for new management.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Its the NHS not the NH$ Profit before care does not work for the public only for investors and the Tories from Circle's donations.
    So is it to go back to the NHS as with anything that goes wrong in the private healthcare arena
    The NHS is public and must remain public Lets hope we can get this 'sell off' government out in May and get a government that will protect the NHS and starts be getting rid of rank after rank of pen pushers

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • While not discagreeing with any of the responses above. Would have to say as a person who has been party to several CQC assessments at 2 different Trust their reports are inaccurate and slanted compeltely towards the interests of those on the team they lack consistency or triangulation of data often including a comment from a single individual and holding this up as reflective of the whole organisation - challenge them then on the factual accuracy and tehy will argue that it is factually accurate that the person said that - not that the content of the comment may be completely inaccurate. Their reports can ruin peoples job prospects and future and do untold damage to organisations. They need to look around staff are not flocking to join the NHS not solely because it has partnership working at Hinchinbrook just in general! CQC need to get their act together if they want any credibility.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • michael stone

    If the NHS is supposed to imprive 'using transparency as a mechanism' then the CQC has got to be honest.

    Does honest criticism of a hospital 'damage its standing' ? Yes.

    It is somewhat 'paradoxical'.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I completely agree with Anonymous | 19-Jan-2015 11:02 am

    My organisation has been through three CQC inspections and have always "scored well" ( twice at 3 stars and once at adequate) but I am constantly amazed at how CQC inspectors will take a comment and take it out of context - it really is the worst kind of snapshot management.

    The last inspector that we had did not understand our client group and took at face value everything he heard, stating that it was up to us to manage such perceptions and "turn them round" - we still got an 'adequate' (top marks at the time) but he left making us all feel that we only just manage to scrape by..... which is far from the case.

    Instead of it being a process that could have been used for positive change it felt like a witch hunt. He frightened my staff and left them demoralised - all in the name of patient care of course......

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Looking at the Quality Account (2014) for that hospital I could not find data on Pressure Ulcer Rates, only a statement about the NHS Safety Thermometer being used. The NHS Sfety Thermometer is a key set of indicators reflecting the quality of nursing care and should be transparent to professionals and the public alike.
    CQC inspections are perhaps the last step in assessing standards of care. Hospital Boards should be taking the lead to be transparent about their patient safety indicators.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • It was a leftie stitch up
    They have form
    They would rather close a hospital than show it can work
    The NHS is NOT safe in their hands

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Dear John Smith | 19-Jan-2015 6:53 pm

    Certainly not safe under the Tories

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Show 1020results per page

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.