Suffolk and Essex NHS boss Nick Hulme says patients need to know 'hospitals are not safe places'

Nick Hulme, chief executive of Ipswich and Colchester hospitals. Credit: NHS

An NHS chief executive said patients need to know hospitals "are not safe places" and are "the worst place you can possibly be".

Nick Hulme was speaking candidly at a board meeting with other health staff when he said there needed to be a "change in the narrative" to ensure patients were properly informed.

"[Hospitals] are horrible places," he said. "The food is rubbish, we don't let you sleep, we don't let you know what's going on.

"I've stayed in some pretty dodgy hotels in my time but I've never had to share a bathroom with six people."

The chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust - which includes both Ipswich and Colchester hospitals - has long been vocal about the struggles faced by the NHS, previously warning that accident and emergency departments were having to turn away patients for the first time.

His comments during the Suffolk and North Essex integrated care board meeting on Tuesday were in response to a report looking at winter pressures, performance across the area's NHS, and how to bring about improvements.

Mr Hulme said he was concerned that, post-pandemic, what bosses expected from emergency care had slipped.

"We have, sadly, come to accept the unacceptable," said Mr Hulme. "If we had had five patients overnight in A&E without a bed in a pre-Covid world, it would have led almost to a major incident.

"Now, if it's five, we are really pleased, we think it's a good night. It's not a good night. It's a dreadful night.

"We have lowered the bar and lowered the bar."

The chief executive said it was time to have a different conversation with patients about "why the worst place you can possibly be in the entire health system is a hospital".

"They are not safe places to be so unless you really need to be there, you just shouldn't be there," he added.

Mr Hulme has worked for the NHS for 35 years and became chief executive of Ipswich Hospital in 2012. In 2016, he also took on the top job at Colchester Hospital before the two trusts officially merged in 2018.

On Wednesday, he issued a statement seeking to clarify his comments at the board meeting.

"I am sorry if my comments have caused any concern or upset," he said. "If you have a clinical need to be in an acute hospital then it is the best place to be. Those patients will receive safe and compassionate care.

“If you don’t have a clinical need then nobody wants to be in hospital. Patients who stay in hospital when they no longer need to be are at greater risk."

On Monday, ambulance staff staged their latest walk out in the ongoing and ever-widening dispute over pay and conditions in the public sector.

Further strikes are planned in the coming weeks by nurses and other NHS workers.

Midwives in Wales are to stage an eight-hour walkout on the same day that thousands of nurses are also due to go on strike on 7 February.

Ministers earlier this month pledged to help ease the burden on hospitals by spending up to £200m for thousands of extra care home beds.

The funding, which was announced by Health Secretary Steve Barclay, will be used to buy short-term placements in community settings, including care homes, to fund stays of up to four weeks per patient until the end of March.

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