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Under-fire Dudley hospital trust boss insists she is the right person for the job

By Richard Guttridge | Dudley | Health | Published:

The under-fire boss of the trust which runs Russells Hall Hospital has insisted she is the right person to deliver changes as she vowed she was going nowhere.

Diane Wake says it's time to move on

Diane Wake, the chief executive of the Dudley Group NHS Trust, said she believed she was "part of the solution not the problem".

It follows criticism of the leadership by local politicians following a turbulent 12 months which has seen the trust rocked by a damning inspection report and claims of bullying, over which leaders were later cleared.

But Ms Wake, who took over the top job in 2017, insisted the trust was making improvements under her leadership and that she intended to see the job through.

Russells Hall

She told the Express & Star: "I've always felt I'm part of the solution not the problem in terms of taking the trust forward on this journey and I think where we are currently, we've turned the corner, we've got a genuine commitment to making the necessary improvements.

"Our most recent CQC inspection showed we had made further improvements, some not quite as fast as we would like but others where services are good with some areas of outstanding which we've never had before and I feel confident with the team that I've got at executive level and the board .. that these are the right people to take us on that journey."

Dame Yve Buckland was brought in as the new interim chair in May following criticism of her predecessor Jenni Ord.

Ms Wake also admitted she was stung by the allegations of bullying which sparked an independent investigation. Some 42 consultants signed a letter raising concerns about the "professional conduct of the senior executives of the trust board". Leaders were ultimately cleared but there remained a sour taste following the row, with the review branded a "whitewash".

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She said changes had been made to make it easier for staff to speak out about problems at work.

The chief executive added: "I think genuinely we were taken aback and just saddened by it but there was also an emerging group of other clinicians who had not signed that letter also saying that doesn't feel like where we're working.

"However, it doesn't matter how many it was, everybody's got a voice and it's important we listen to that voice and do everything we can to make the improvements that we need to."

'Time to move on'

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The trust which runs Russells Hall in Dudley has come in for criticism over the last 12 months over concerns raised by the health watchdog and claims of bullying against senior members of staff, for which it was later cleared.

But chief executive Diane Wake believes it is now time to move on from the troubles of the past year and says the hospital is now in a much better place.

Safety at the trust was rated as "inadequate" by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in July amid concerns over the standards of care in the A&E department as the trust remained "requires improvement" overall.

Ms Wake said she was "disappointed" with the outcome and insists the trust has since made great strides to improve standards as she sought to reassure people in Dudley about the level of its services.

The CQC has been satisfied enough with steps taken to decrease its focus on the trust, with monthly progress meetings having stopped.

Ms Wake admitted the reputation of the hospital had "taken a hit" with some but said she was confident in the work of trust leaders and frontline staff.

She said: "No doubt the hospital’s reputation has taken a hit with some people. I genuinely think we’re on a journey that is demonstrating improvement across the board.

"If you look at our CQC report the biggest numbers of patients we see are in medicine and that core service of medicine is rated good, surgery is where we do the majority of our elective work, it is rated outstanding for caring and good overall, and that is the bulk of where we deliver our care and we know ED (emergency department) is improving.

"Eighteen months ago it had two inadequate ratings, we’ve reduced that to one and we genuinely feel when CQC come back and have a look at the safe domain in ED they acknowledge the improvements we’ve made that’s likely to change.

"I think we are on a massive improvement journey and I’m delighted how our staff have responded to that. In the hospital you can feel it, people are a lot more positive, a lot more motivated."

She continued: "From a safety point of view because we had inadequate in two domains which was diagnostics and within ED that gives you an overall site rating of inadequate which we were incredibly disappointed about, we were not only disappointed for the trust we were disappointed for our staff.

"There has been a tremendous amount of work that has gone on within the A&E department, led by the team in there with support from both the leaders within the division but also the executive team around trying to make improvements within ED and a real commitment from our staff who genuinely every day work above and beyond.

"They need that hero status for working in that sort of environment because what we don’t see is the number of emergency attendances going down from an emergency department perspective so they’re always working with increased demand not only from patients but ambulance admissions as well."

Despite Ms Wake's assertion that staff are more upbeat, a row over bullying claims has not gone away. An independent investigation cleared senior leaders, though the trust was told to improve measures for allowing staff to raise concerns.

The review was subsequently branded a "whitewash" and some of those who made the accusations felt their concerns had been "brushed under the carpet".

Ms Wake said she had been "saddened" by the unsavoury affair and insisted measures were being put in place to allow staff to speak out. The trust is to advertise for a full-time 'freedom to speak up champion' to focus solely on staff concerns.

She said: "There was absolute genuine disappointment that staff felt they had to go outside of the hospital to raise concerns and also genuine disappointment in being one of those individuals named in that and the impact is not good for either party.

"For us it's about moving on. Whether the people in it were cleared or not it happened and it's about making sure we are working with all staff in the organisation and most importantly staff feel they can raise concerns."

She added: "We asked NHS Improvement, their lead for freedom to speak up, to come and do a review of our policy and how we manage freedom to speak up as an organisation. This individual did a very comprehensive review and offered us some advice about how we might change our policy and review it, how we could provide more mechanisms for staff to speak up."

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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