Northumbria Healthcare NHS trust rated 'outstanding'

Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital Image copyright Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
Image caption The Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital has been described by NHS England as "a vision of the future"

A health trust that last year opened a pioneering emergency-only hospital has been rated "outstanding".

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust is "one of the best hospital trusts in England", chief inspector of hospitals Prof Sir Mike Richards said.

The Care Quality Commission said it was "caring, effective and well-led".

The trust's new Cramlington A&E hospital has faced criticism over long queues and the distance some seriously ill patients must travel to get there.

The £75m centre was the first in NHS England purpose built to treat only emergency cases, with consultants on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

'A remarkable first'

But the plan for its opening also included the downgrading of A&E at the trust's North Tyneside General, Wansbeck General and Hexham General hospitals, which now offer a walk-in service for less serious conditions.

Sir Mike said, however, there was a "consistency of the outstanding ratings across all four hospital locations and across community services".

"To achieve this across so many sites is truly remarkable and is a first," he said.

Trust chief executive David Evans said it was a "wonderful achievement" so soon after the trust "brought about a huge clinical change with our new emergency care centre".

A&E at Cramlington was rated good overall with some areas of improvement needed.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) had highlighted areas the trust "already knew about and were already working on", Mr Evans said.

Image copyright Martin Jackson
Image caption Patients were photographed queuing on trolleys at the new emergency care hospital in Cramlington in August, two months after it opened

The trust said it had seen A&E patient numbers "far in excess" of those predicted, including walk-in patients which it had not intended to use the acute unit.

CQC regional head of hospital inspections Amanda Stanford said the trust had "struggled" with emergency waiting times.

But she said patient feedback overall had been "extremely positive" despite a number of criticisms on the NHS Choices website.

Many related to A&E and waiting times but the CQC had confidence in the trust's ability to deal with, and learn from, complaints, Ms Stanford said.

Image caption The CQC's Amanda Stanford said patient feedback had been 'extremely positive' although there had been complaints about A&E

Announced and unannounced inspections of the trust were carried out at the end of last year.

The CQC found leadership was inspirational and recent changes in services had been managed effectively.

Hospital and community services were strongly integrated and support for young people with complex needs was "excellent", inspectors found.

Staff were compassionate, polite and respectful and went out of their way to meet patients' needs, the report said.

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