The headline on last week’s Chester & District Standard made depressing reading.

A Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection had rated the Countess of Chester Hospital Trust overall as requiring improvement, while it looked in detail at four core services at the trust’s site: medical care, surgery, maternity, and urgent & emergency services. Inspectors also looked at how well-led the trust was.

The CQC found standards of patient care continue to be below those people have a right to expect, as was the case at the previous inspection.

It also found the effectiveness of the trust’s leadership and the safety of its maternity service had worsened. CQC served the trust with two warning notices requiring it to make urgent improvements in these areas.

And as someone who had to wait six hours in A&E recently, then come back the following day, I can well understand some of these criticisms. When public services are failing my constituents, I will be the first to complain.

But there is more to this situation than meets the eye. 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.

Latest figures showed there are 37,945 people waiting for care at the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. 4380 of these people have been waiting for longer than a year and 420 people have been waiting for more than two years.

One of the main problems is social care: people – usually elderly – whom the hospital wants to discharge, but can’t because there is nowhere for them to go to get the continuing care they would need.

The government recently increased national insurance by 10% to pay a social care levy, but instead that is going to health, presumably to make up for the £350 million per week we were promised if we voted for Brexit, and which of course never materialised. Indeed, the nation’s economy has shrunk since we left the EU.

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.

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