Sickness costs Hartlepool’s hospital trust more than £600,000 on just one month: Five key issues discussed at health board meeting

Sickness absences cost Hartlepool’s hospital trust more than £600,000 in the first month of this year.

Tuesday, 2nd April 2019, 11:25 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd April 2019, 11:29 am
University Hospital of Hartlepool.

Almost a third (29%) off sick at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust were away due to anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illness.

The total cost to the trust in January came to £615,647.

North Teess and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust board chairman Paul Garvin.

A report for the latest trust board meeting showed staff sickness had risen to 5.43% in the first month of 2019 – up from 4.96% in December.

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Board chairman Paul Garvin said it wasn’t good – but he wanted to know how the trust compared to others.

Alan Sheppard, workforce director at the trust, said North Tees and Hartlepool was below the regional average for absences and had performed well when compared with the rest of the North East.

He added: “Certainly over winter, every trust in the region has reported a significantly higher sickness absence than normal.”

Mr Sheppard said the trust had a challenging target to meet and no trust had hit it since 2016.

And he added he felt they had a “good grip” of the problem – given the trust had no cases of “long-term sickness absence” (6 months or more) at the moment.

Mr Sheppard added: “I’m not excusing where we are for sickness absence, but in context, nobody has managed to hit that target consistently.

“There’s a lot of work going on with employee support and we’re focusing on mental health.”

The report for the meeting added a stress group has been set up in February and the trust was working with unions to help improve mental health for staff.

A pledge to help staff through the “Time to Change” campaign – which seeks to reduce mental health-related stigma and discrimination – is also being adopted by the trust.

A&E performance second best in country 

However, there was also cause for cheer in the trust’s latest round of results.

North Tees and Hartlepool hospitals are second in the country for A&E four hour standards waiting standards with more than 95% of patients admitted, transferred or discharged within the deadline.

The trust is also fifth in the country when it comes to cancer screening within 62 days and sixth for referral to specialists.

And death rates – measured using something called the HSMR (Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratio)  – are also heading in the right direction.

A score of 100 is the aim and the trust saw its HSMR figure fall from 103.12 from February 2017 to January 2018, to 100.37 from December 2017 to November 2018.

Board member Jonathan Erskine said “fireworks should be let off” on the back of the results.

Mr Garvin was very pleased.

The chairman said: “It’s a super set of high level performance results.

“Mortality rates, both in hospital and up to 30 days post-discharge, are down both near 100 for the first time – it’s a really great performance.

“So I think this is the opportunity to say a huge thanks to the staff.

“None of this happens by accident and it’s been really hard work over the past 12 months – but I get the feeling we’ve got some really good momentum going at the moment.

“We just need to keep hat rolling and not become distracted.”

Vomiting bug spike

Sickness bug Clostridium-Difficile (c.diff) figures exceeded 200 ten years ago at the trust.

But this has fallen and the trust brought cases down by more than a quarter last year.

However, the new year has seen a c.diff spike with ten cases in January and February.

Julie Lane, director of nursing, explained five of those cases of couldn’t have been prevented as the patients weren’t in the trust’s care.

And she told the panel the cases were not linked.

But the nursing leader was still disappointed with the rise.

Ms Lane said: “It was disappointing that one of the wards which hadn’t had a case of c.diff for 18 months had two very quickly – that was quite disappointing for us.”

The panel heard how the infection was mainly affecting elderly people and the nursing leader explained it was a “bit of a battle” when c.diff was caught outside a hospital and then brought in.

 

Finances

NHS finances have been squeezed since 2010 and many trusts are spending more than they are bringing in.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS trust has a £14.8m deficit.

However, this is ahead of its “planned deficit” of £19m.

Mr Garvin was upbeat.

He said: “The money is going in the right direction.

“It’s still a deficit but we’re making really good progress and running well ahead of target.”

Alex Metcalfe , Local Democracy Reporting Service