Ups and downs of a troubled hospital
8:56am Thursday 18th October 2012 in News
FROM high death rates and debt problems to becoming a maternity supercentre and awards for dedicated staff — the Royal Bolton Hospital is no stranger to both controversy and celebration.
Financial difficulties are far from a new issue for the Trust as, in May, 2003, it found itself £3.2 million in the red, although health chiefs assured the public the loss was planned and they were on target to break even.
But almost 18 months later — in October, 2004 — the hospital was looking at selling off buildings in a bid to plug a £5.7 million black hole.
A five-month freeze was put on buying furniture, fittings or new equipment and the blame was put on managers of individual departments for not properly controlling their budgets.
Fast forward to 2010 and the hospital faced £10 million-worth of cuts in just one financial year, as the full force of the economic recession hit the whole NHS.
At the time, the then director of finance Gary Raphael — who left trust by mutual agreement last month — said: “Very substantial changes are required to ensure services are improved at lower cost. It is going to be tough.”
In August this year health watchdog Monitor took the unusual step of intervening in the running of the hospital as its finances were placed under red risk.
It said the decision was made due to the trust’s worsening financial position which had led to a failure to comply with its duty to function effectively, efficiently and economically.
Cllr Cliff Morris, who is also leader of Bolton Council, stepped down from the role of foundation trust chairman and Monitor replaced him with interim chairman David Wakefield.
Speaking at the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust’s annual members meeting in September, Mr Wakefield vowed: “We will turn it around.”
Cash flow problems have not been the only issue to cause concern for Monitor over the hospital.
In April this year, it found the trust had failed to meet healthcare targets — specifically four-hour A&E waiting times and the target for an 18-week or shorter wait from referral to treatment.
At the time, Merav Dover, compliance director at Monitor, said: “We need to see more robust action from the trust board to make sure that services are run more effectively for patients by ensuring that healthcare targets are met.”
It was not the first time the hospital had failed to meet its four hour A&E waiting time target as figures revealed similar problems in September, 2010.
Back in May, 2004, an independent audit found the hospital had the second highest patient death rate in the North West, although the Dr Foster Report did acknowledge the hospital had improved on the previous year, when it had the highest death rate in the region.
Hospital chiefs said the figures were down to high levels of deprivation and a busy A&E department.
Later that year, the Royal Bolton lost a star in the national league tables with health watchdogs declaring it “showing cause for concern” and reducing its two-star status to one-star, out of a possible three.
Part of the reason for being stripped of the star was the revelation figures had been fiddled at the hospital.
Just months before, the Audit Commission, during a spot-check, had discovered there were 83 patients who had been waiting 12 months or more for minor operations when the hospital had reported that no-one was waiting.
Many of the hospital’s triumphs centre around the dedicated staff who work tirelessly to care for the people of Bolton.
In 2002, nurses at the hospital’s eye unit were praised by the Government for the high quality of their service to the public and, in 2008, the Nursing Times hailed the hospital’s bereavement and donor team for providing “an incredible service”.
Last year, Fiona Murphy, clinical lead for bereavement and organ donation, was named the national Nurse of the Year.
The hospital has also been boosted by a number of new buildings and services being created over the years, including a new cardiac support unit.
A campaign to build the unit was launched in February, 2002, and the kind-hearted people of Bolton dug deep and donated a staggering £1.3 million in two years.
A £1.2 million renal dialysis unit opened in 2003 and a £1.28 million A&E unit, specifically for youngsters, was created in 2007.
In 2009, work started to transform the hospital into a regional “supercentre” for the care of women, children and babies, which saw about £20 million invested over three years.
The Making it Better investment has paid for an expanded maternity unit, an expanded neonatal unit to care for the region’s smallest and sickest babies and a new children's ward.
The hospital, previously called Bolton General, was first built by the Bolton Poor Law Union on the Townleys Estate and opened in l861, adjacent to the Fishpool Workhouse in Farnworth.
An infirmary was built next to it in 1899 and, by 2006, the hospital’s size had increased to cover around 55 acres.