Inspectors lavish praise on Northampton General Hospital as it improves to 'good' rating

NGH staff were delighted with the Care Quality Commission's verdict, which saw a turnaround from 2013's 'requires improvement'.
NGH staff were delighted with the Care Quality Commission's verdict, which saw a turnaround from 2013's 'requires improvement'.

It has been a long journey but finally the rest of the world knows what the staff have  all along: Northampton General Hospital is a good hospital.

When inspectors from the care Quality Commission gave their shattering verdict in 2014, it was that NGH ‘requires improvement’. Although true (in fact, in some areas it verged on being ‘inadequate’), it was never something the nurses, doctors, porters and cleaners believed; that rating just wasn’t NGH.

And so it has proved. The comparison graphic that chief executive Dr Sonia Swart has been proud to show off to employees for weeks features a grid stained with the yellow of inadequacy. Next to that is a similar grid expect this one is almost completely green.

Green - to (almost) quote Michael Douglas - is good.

Dr Swart, who was promoted from being both the NGH medical director and a cancer specialist just three months before the disappointment of 2014, said the graphic is a great visual aid.

She said: “You can see exactly how much we’ve changed, how much we are now doing better, right across the hospital.

“That tells a story.

“When I tell them, the staff have been absolutely delighted.”

The hospital was found to be good in all five categories inspected - safe, well-led, caring, responsive and effective - with many outstanding features highlighted by the inspection team.

“The report paints a picture that everyone here will recognise," Dr Swart said.

“The essence is of a positive team spirit delivering care of a high standard in a clincally-led structure where staff are proud of what they do.”

The effect of the report is greater than a mere pat on the back for directors and managers.

Reports like these generate a feelgood factor beyond a colourful chart, something which is significant in light of the NHS England boss's assertion today that the public has lost trust in ministers.

“What we’re building is hope and trust,” Dr Swart says.

“And this ‘good’ rating, really creates both of those things. People have greater trust that I am doing my job, for example.

“And this gives all the staff who have worked extremely hard hope things do get better.”

Hospital bosses say that the findings, based on visits in January and February, reflect what they have been hearing from patients for a while now (part of the reason they were so keen to have inspectors back). In particular, letters from a surprising source - people treated by accident and emergency staff, a department that is supposed to be on its knees.

Dr Swart said: “The report echoes the hundreds of emails and letters I receive every month from patients and their loved ones. People who take the time to tell me how much it means to them when we get it right, when we prioritise their experience and safety above everything else.

“Compliments about care in A&E far outweigh the complaints and we’ve seen that steadily change.”

“It makes you think that if we can achieve outstanding leadership in the emergency department, we can do anything.”

And what might "anything" look like? Can Northampton General staff dream of being among the very best hospitals in the country?

Dr Swart said: “It gives us renewed confidence that, if we sustain our current improvements and continue our current approach, we'll be able to move from good to outstanding.”

Outstanding practice highlighted by CQC inspectors included:

-world-class stroke service (one of the top seven in the country, with time to a CT scan currently 26 minutes)
-geriatric emergency medicine service
-excellent oversight by doctors of NGH patients placed in care homes near the hospital
-improving care of people with dementia
-volunteer companion scheme for dying patients who don’t have any visitors
-baby skin assessment on Gosset neonatal ward
-outstanding leadership in A&E
-well-maintained estates