THE Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals have been in special measures for nearly six months now, but bosses insist they have made good progress on addressing the problems.

Members of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) will gather next week to look back on events since July, when NHS inspectors led by NHS medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, made wide-ranging criticisms of the way the organisation was run.

With supervision from the London-based NHS Trust Development Agency, ELHT has been following a detailed improvement plan to address the shortcomings. And according to the plan, which has been regularly updated by ELHT, all the improvements are ‘on track’, with some already delivered.

Many of the concerns were centred on staffing levels, but Martin Hodgson, director of service development, said: “Our robust recruitment plan has resulted in 107 more nurses since April 2013.

“Nurse vacancy levels have reduced, from 204 in April 2013, to 76 with a forecast to reach our current establishment by February 2014.”

He said the trust’s death rates, which sparked the investigations last year, had also started to improve, with increased oversight from board members who now receive an enhanced monthly mortality report.

Staff sickness rates had fllen from 4.37 per cent to 3.83 per cent, better than the North West average of 4.37, while 48 staff had enhanced leadership skills through various courses.

He said the complaints process was now ‘more compassionate’, offering the opport- unity for patients to meet with members of the clinical team, while more patients were being seen in the community to ease pressure on the hospitals.

Mr Hodgson added: “We have started an ambulatory care service to provide better, faster care. This is a patient-focused service where people coming into hospital as emergency patients can have investigations, exploratory examinations and a treatment plan without need for an overnight stay.”