Hospital managers were 'acting like squirrels' and reluctant to share PPE

The frantic fight for PPE in the early days of Covid has been revealed by a hospital boss, who likened his staff to “squirrels”.

David Loughton CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust
David Loughton CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Trust

David Loughton said concern over shortages had led medical staff and ward managers to be protective of stocks, often hiding them away to ensure their department was adequately supplied.

He said he attached no blame to them, but that their behaviour was an indication of the uncertainty and concern that came when coronavirus arrived and hospital admission numbers started to soar.

The chief executive of Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, which runs New Cross Hospital, was speaking at a board meeting, where the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) was raised.

He said getting enough supplies in presented a “difficult situation”.

He told the meeting: “I don’t blame anybody for this, there are certain things that happened during Covid that did not help the situation, when there was a scarcity of PPE.

“Ward managers can best be described as squirrels because they can hide things in cupboards and wait for the winter.

“We go back to the start of this, there were behaviours, that were normal human behaviours.

“But it didn’t help the situation when there were people who said ‘no, no, no, this is my departmental PPE’.”

Mr Loughton said the issue had been identified and a new culture of looking at the bigger picture within the hospital trust was being encouraged among staff as it continued to deal with challenges brought by the coronavirus crisis.

He added: “We have absolutely nailed down where some of these problems actually started. As I say, we will deal with them.”

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the trust, added: “I think the message there is generally about management and messages and acting on things at all levels, which is important.”

Earlier on in the meeting, attendants had asked how well some staff had felt supported at work, including with their mental health and safety.

'Small core' of staff not treating people well

New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton

Mr Loughton said “a small core” of staff had not been behaving well and said work is ongoing to address those issues.

He said: “Let us stop giving ourselves a warm, cuddly feeling.

“You cannot change what you do not acknowledge.

“There is a small core of people – outside of domestics, porters, etcetera, etcetera – that have not been treating people as well as I would like.

“I have narrowed down the areas and we will be dealing with those people, no question about it.

“Let us be clear, it isn’t uniform across the trust that these people have been appreciated throughout the trust, but it will be dealt with.

“Believe me, I have got the list of ward staff that haven’t been treating people as well as I would expect, and they will be dealt with.”

Every hospital trust has a ‘Freedom to Speak Up Guardian’ to give independent support and advice to staff who want to raise concerns. It is part of a nation-wide policy to encourage staff with issues to feel they can be heard.

Mr Loughton said he has an open-door to the Guardian within the Wolverhampton trust. adding: “I meet her anytime she wants to see me.”

He added: “I am not going to go into detail at a public meeting.

“But she has worked very closely with a group of staff, and she has also – through those staff – provided me with the people I need to talk and reprogramme, in terms of their attitude towards some staff.

“I do, in a public meeting, need to make this very clear, it is a small number of areas. It is not big, it is probably three areas that we need to deal with.

“I work very, very closely with the full time convener, I see the full time convener at will, so these concerns get raised to me, so I can go and cut out whether the middle managers are doing anything about their concerns or not. I have done that in one area and we are working with them.”

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