'Patient safety at University Hospital of North Staffordshire is my number one priority'
NEW hospital chief executive Jim Birrell has pledged high quality care will remain his top priority as he tackles a multi-million pound cash crisis.
The interim boss, below, hopes the £27 million overspend at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire will act as a trigger to bring long-awaited improvements to get more people treated nearer their homes.
And he assured patients that marathon accident unit waits are not undermining the safety or quality of care.
Speaking after attending his first hospital board meeting yesterday Mr Birrell said: "In my first few days it is striking how committed the staff are and how the public are benefiting from these superb new facilities on a single site.
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"Of course everything has to be done within financial constraints but I will ensure the existing safety and high quality of services will remain top priority as we confront our financial challenges.
"To avoid similar problems in the future the whole local health economy must do things very differently with more services provided in the community to keep people out of hospital.
"I am aware North Staffordshire has been working on this for years – but finance may now act as the burning platform to make it happen.
"If that is the case then some good will have come out of all this as after all necessity is the mother of invention."
Mr Birrell – who has previously run hospitals in Leicester and Liverpool – is expected to remain in post for around six months until a permanent replacement for former chief executive Julia Bridgewater is found.
Mrs Bridgewater resigned last month amid rising debts and growing accident unit queues.
The overspend had climbed to around £27 million partly because Mrs Bridgewater re-opened 80 extra beds at vast expense to cope with record numbers flooding into the A&E unit.
Hospital officials have already secured an £8.2 million bailout from the region's strategic health authority to cover some of the costs.
The hospital is also seeking £10 million from the area's primary care trusts (PCTs). But the PCTs have offered just £2 million, with talks continuing next week.
Interim finance director Graham Bennett said: "The position got no worse in December but we want a fair recompense for the additional patient activity we are doing."