Sheffield Children’s Hospital faces tough challenges, its chief executive Simon Morritt freely admits.
Faced with rising demand for specialist care and pressure to meet stringent Government standards, the hospital has committed itself to ambitious plans to treat more patients against a background of budgetary belt-tightening across the entire health service.
But Mr Morritt says that as work gets under way on a new £40 million redevelopment, and efforts are made to boost research and make better use of resources, the hospital should ‘continue to thrive’.
“Both the people of Sheffield and the agencies recognise the strength having a successful children’s hospital brings to the city,” he said.
“I wouldn’t hide behind the fact that I want to make sure we continue to meet those expectations and continue to play a significant role across the region.”
According to the hospital’s recently-published strategic plan for the next three years, referrals to its services have leapt by 20 per cent in the last five years, with a four per cent rise over the last 12 months.
“Activity is consistently growing, which in terms of what we’re doing in the next two to three years leads to our big problem and that’s space.
“You’ve only got to walk around the hospital to recognise that we really do struggle for space, every last square foot of the building is occupied, so that’s why we’re having the new build,” said Mr Morritt.
“One of the big areas were looking at is unscheduled care. We have more than 50,000 attendances at children’s A&E here. It’s a very popular and very busy service.
“We can’t just see that continually rise year on year - we have to do some work with our partners in Sheffield to think about whether there are other places children can be seen.
“We’ve done a number of things, such as a hotline which allows consultants to give advice to GPs when they are with a child in clinic, that might prevent them making the journey up here.
“There are some challenges in primary care, to make sure that family doctors do have doctors trained in paediatrics who are more confident at dealing with children within the surgery.”
Mr Morritt offered his own theory as to why emergency units are coming under increasing strain.
He said: “A&Es are accessible. They are open 24/7, we can’t close it - it won’t close.
“And the public, if they attend and perceive that they get a good quality service, they’re likely to come back.”
Meanwhile, the hospital wants to treat more ‘elective’ patients in areas such as neurosciences, musculoskeletal and respiratory services and specialist mental health care.
Mr Morritt continued: “What I think will happen in the future is that the very, very specialist care will be concentrated in fewer centres.
“Some of that work will come to us, some if it will be concentrated at organisations like Great Ormond Street in London.
“We’ve definitely got work to do, there’s no doubt that the standards will get more challenging.
But I think we are well placed to rise to that challenge.
“I’m not so sure we’re stealing a march on other cities. They’re all trying to respond to the same issues that we’re facing - of growing activity and needing to modernise, update and create space to be able to deal with that activity as it comes in.”
But the chief executive said the hospital has been doing its bit to help the NHS’s cost-cutting drive by taking measures such as ensuring operating theatre lists are fully booked-up.
“We don’t have a plan or a strategy to cut the number of clinical staff on our wards - far from it, they have steadily grown and are continuing to grow, but what we’re saying to clinical teams and divisions within the organisation is ‘yes, we can invest in additional staff, but let’s try to change how we do things so we can get more out of the resource we’ve got’.
“We turn over £150m a year, that’s a lot of money, so to assume that we can’t make some efficiencies is wrong. Getting six children onto a theatre list that can take six is not diminishing the quality.
“For us to be a specialist hospital the quality has to be maintained. If you lose sight of that you’re starting to lose the war, really.”
Mr Morritt also said the hospital had ‘no immediate plans’ to greatly expand its private children’s healthcare.
“It would be disingenuous of me to say that we haven’t thought about it, but we don’t have the capacity or the space to effectively offer that service now.
“But in the future, things may change. I don’t think there’s a large market for it.”