CITY of Chester MP Chris Matheson has defended the Countess of Chester Hospital in the face of a critical inspection.

Last week we reported healthcare inspectors strongly criticised the hospital, labelling its maternity services and leadership as 'inadequate' and highlighting several other areas as requiring improvement.

The inspection by the Care Quality Commission focused on acute services at the hospital in February and March this year, when the hospital was still battling the Omicron wave of Covid.

The 112-page report said staff morale at the Countess of Chester Hospital Trust was the lowest nationally, waiting times had soared as more patients were referred to the hospital, and lessons were not properly learned when serious incidents took place.

Staff shortages, particularly in midwifery, and the roll-out of a problematic electronic patient record system in July 2021 had resulted in failings.

Inspectors gave an 'inadequate' rating to how well the trust was led.

However, throughout all areas of the hospital inspected, staff were commended for being caring and kind, with positive patient feedback, resulting in a 'good' rating for caring services.

The hospital trust received an overall 'requires improvement' rating, and CQC served the trust with two warning notices, meaning the trust needed to make significant improvements in the quality and safety of healthcare provided in maternity services and significant improvements in governance systems relating to referral to treatment processes, implementation of the electronic patient record system and around the management of incidents, complaints and patient deaths.

But Mr Matheson said there was "more to this situation than meets the eye", highlighting a number of factors outside the hospital trust's control at the time of the inspection.

He said: "For example, ours has been the worst-hit hospital for coronavirus in the North West, and one of the top five worst hit in the whole country.

"That meant often over half of all the beds were taken up with patients seriously ill with covid. And the inspectors did not take this into account. Nor did they take into account that at times, as many as 180 members of hospital staff were off with coronavirus.

"This will inevitably have an impact, as will staffing shortages: nationally there are still 40,000 nursing vacancies."

Mr Matheson also backed the CEO of the Countess of Chester Hospital Trust, Dr Susan Gilby, to help drive forward improvements at the hospital.

He said: "One area I have confidence in is the leadership of the hospital. Dr Susan Gilby joined the Countess at an impossible time, but she is strong and capable and the best person to lead the change required."

Responding to the CQC inspection report last week, Dr Gilby said: "The CQC’s report identifies a number of key areas for further improvement and development that are required at the Trust, as well as recognising the work which has taken place to embed a culture of compassionate care and treatment across the Trust’s services.

“The report illustrates where more progress must still be made to ensure the Trust can provide the highest quality of treatment to the local community, which we are committed to delivering. In our Maternity Department, we have implemented and are continuing to develop measures to ensure we can consistently provide patients with the safe and effective care they have a right to expect.

“Despite unprecedented pressure, the Trust’s urgent and emergency services were able to maintain a ‘good’ performance in terms of its provision of effective and caring treatment, which is a testament to the professionalism and commitment of our staff.

“We are now working hard across the Trust to implement the CQC’s recommendations, so we can continue to make improvements and deliver increasingly high-quality care to our communities in the future.”

  • To see the full comment from Chris Matheson MP, see this week's View from Westminster column in this week's Chester Standard, out in shops this Thursday, priced 50p.