CHAIRMAN of the Royal Bolton Hospital, David Wakefield, has spoken for the first time about how bad things were at the troubled trust when he took charge.

In a frank interview with The Bolton News, chairman of the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, Mr Wakefield, pictured, has revealed that health watchdogs were furious with him when he used board meetings to highlight just how severe the situation was.

But now he says the future is bright for the trust and that he is confident it will “thrive” in 2014 as part of his ambitious plans.

The Bolton News: David Wakefield, Bolton NHS Foundation Trust chairman

DAVID Wakefield, chairman of Bolton NHS Trust admits things were so bad in 2013, that no one had a clue what was going on. But in 2014, he is looking towards a better future and tells health reporter Charlotte Dobson his plans.

DAVID Wakefield will be the first to tell you that 2013 was a tough year for the Royal Bolton Hospital.

Plagued by debt, quality breaches and investigations by health watchdog Monitor, the future of the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust looked uncertain — with some suggesting the trust could fold altogether.

Mr Wakefield was appointed permanently when Monitor made the unusual decision to intervene in the trust in August, 2012, following the departure of Bolton Council leader Cllr Cliff Morris, who had been chairman for eight years.

It was revealed that £3.8 million was “unaccounted” for at the trust and an investigation was launched.

But Mr Wakefield said his concerns started when he was first brought in and faced the prospect of turning round the quality of care.

Mr Wakefield said that at the time the trust was facing a lot of criticism from health watchdogs NHS England and Monitor, and even from other neighbouring trusts.

“At that stage I wasn’t concerned about the money. I was more concerned about the quality of care because we were failing a great number of targets,” said Mr Wakefield.

“One of the first things I introduced was the exception reports so the board would understand how bad things were. Monitor was furious with me about that because of the negative press we got. But what it did do was show everyone how bad things were at the time.

“If you walked around and talked to everyone, they all wanted to do a good job. I just think we were sloppy. I think we weren’t sticking to systems, processes, reporting.

“The board reports were dreadful, no one had a clue what was going on. That was the truth of it.”

The trust also announced it needed to make savings of £50 million over three years and it was revealed it was losing between £1.5 million and £1.7 million each month.

Mr Wakefield said: “When I was asked to look at the trust, the overspend was so high and so big you really couldn’t get your head around it. In those early days, we really weren’t sure why it was so high.

“There were three main reasons why we were in so much trouble. Firstly, we had very poor commercial deals and secondly, we hadn’t taken sufficient work on our recurrent savings. Thirdly, we had a lot of inadequate reporting.

“We’ve had to address all of that So we started last year on the back of all that and it was a pretty dismal place to be.

“I would have loved to have said in January, 2013, that our darkest days were behind us, but they weren’t because of all the sepsis and Bruce Keogh stuff.

“We’ve managed to get through all of that, but it really was difficult for the trust.”

Last year, an investigation was launched into the number of sepsis cases at the Royal Bolton.

Between March, 2010, and April the following year there were 800 cases at the trust. A similar size trust would be expected to have about 200.

Acting chief executive Dr Jackie Bene temporarily stepped down while the investigation was carried out.

But bosses were cleared of any wrongdoing in May and hailed the way the hospital recorded cases of sepsis. Dr Bene also returned to work.

Yet Mr Wakefield said it was the response from the staff at the hospital which made him realise it could be rescued.

He said: “I felt, with a few key changes at board level and then engaging with the staff here, we could do something.

“And I’m not just saying this to butter up the consultants, but they are the best you can find anywhere in that they engage.

“When we had the sepsis problem, 50 of them turned up to a private meeting to talk about what we could do.

“And that’s what made me think, ‘Actually, this is saveable’.”

Even though the trust is still losing about £1 million a month, the Royal Bolton’s Accident and Emergency performance and superbug rates have improved.