Revealed: More than 5,000 people a year ditch Stockport’s Stepping Hill hospital following saline poisoning probe

Exclusive by David Keane

More than 5,000 fewer people are choosing Stockport’s Stepping Hill as their hospital of choice than four years ago following the saline poisoning deaths.

MM can reveal that the number of patients choosing the hospital via the ‘Choose and Book’ referral process plummeted from 43,947 in 2009 to 38,707 in 2012 – a stark drop of almost 12%.

Yet the figure is a slight increase on the 38,414 people who chose to be referred to the hospital in 2011, at the height of the saline poisoning probe.

However hospital chiefs believe the dramatic fall in people opting for treatment at Stepping Hill is not linked to the tragic deaths of eight people following contaminated saline drips.

The ‘Choose and Book’ system allows patients to choose the place, date and time of their first outpatient appointment in a hospital or clinic.

James Sumner, Director of Operations and Performance at Stockport NHS, rejected any notion that the well-publicised poisoning probe in 2011 was behind the drop in figures.

“We are grateful that the community has shown outstanding support for our hospital following the saline incident and not let this criminal and malicious event overshadow our long-standing record of good care,” he said.

“These were deliberate and malicious acts of sabotage which do not reflect on our dedicated and skilled care. Thanks to the vigilance and professionalism of staff these incidents were spotted quickly at the time. We are a safe hospital with a good safety record.”

Mr Sumner pointed out that a new system has been put in place which means that many who may have used Choose and Book before are now referred to a community health clinic.

The Integrated Clinical Assessment and Treatment Services (ICATS) system aims to reduce the pressure on hospitals and treat more people, where appropriate, in a community setting closer to their home.

He said: “We believe the fall in our Choose and Book referrals is as a result of more people, who would previously have been referred to hospital via Choose and Book, now being treated out-of-hospital.”

Councillor Tom McGee, Chair of Stockport Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee, echoed Mr Sumner’s comments. He also pointed out that the figures for those attending the Accident and Emergency department had gone up in the last few years.

Chair of LINk and Healthwatch Stockport John Leach was keen to stress that the saline poisonings were an isolated incident that the hospital dealt with professionally.

“I can’t speak for what people think but obviously they have been adverse,” he said.

“But it’s a damn good hospital. If anyone has chosen not to attend Stepping Hill solely because of the saline poisoning then that is a poor reason because that could have happened at any hospital in the country and the fact is it was dealt with well by the hospital.”

Stepping Hill has received mixed opinion on the hospital review website Patient Opinion – an independent site where patients can post their experiences of the UK health service. They can leave their experiences with their name or anonymously.

One patient, Ms B Smith, was referred to the hospital’s women’s unit to see a gynaecologist. When she arrived for her appointment it emerged the doctor wasn’t on shift and she had to wait a further 90 minutes to be seen.

“I wasn’t talked through the process or asked to sign anything, I was treated like I was in the way and they just wanted me in and out,” she said.

“I was appalled by the complete lack of care or professionalism at this hospital. I left very upset and after six weeks of worrying I contacted my doctors and got them to chase up my results.

“After numerous different answers from the staff on this unit I was told I needed treatment. I’m obviously currently in the process of being referred to another hospital where I will get the care and attention I deserve.”

Another patient described how they were referred to Stepping Hill by their GP – yet had their results lost and did not receive follow-ups with test results unless they chased them.

“If you have had a similar experience as we have and feel you are getting nowhere then go to your GP and demand to be referred somewhere else,” the patient said.

“It’s your choice and your right. Our GP did try to convince us to give it another chance but when they lost a second set of results that was the final straw. We are now at Wythenshawe and the difference is unbelievable.”

Meanwhile Peter Smith thanked staff at the hospital for the ‘very high standard of treatment’ he received while at Stepping Hill.

Mr Smith, who also suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, visited the hospital in February 2013 for a hip replacement operation after a fall.

“Throughout my stay, the nursing was exceptional, from pre to post op and then on the ward D1,” he said.

“In fact, I cannot remember ever having said ‘Thank you’ so many times in a single week – and meant it every single time.”

Patient Opinion refer stories on their website to the relevant people at the hospital, who frequently use the site to get back in touch with patients.

In response to Ms Smith’s experience, Head of Risk and Customer Services at the hospital Cath Marsland said: “I am saddened that you have felt the need to be referred to another hospital for your treatment.

“I would welcome the opportunity to discuss your experience further and then the issues can be fed directly back to those involved and hopefully no one else will experience what you have.”

Image courtesy of ITN via YouTube, with thanks.

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