THE man tasked with leading the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals out of special measures said ‘a cloud has begun to lift from the organisation’.

Jim Birrell, a respected NHS troubleshooter, said he found significant problems when he arrived in East Lancashire, but insisted he would be ‘genuinely’ happy to be treated as a patient.

Mr Birrell was handed the role of interim chief executive in January, and has since been bolstered by the appointment of the experienced Professor Eileen Fairhust as the trust’s permanent chairman.

The pair have already overseen several improvements, particularly around staffing levels, emergency care and the complaints process, and are now hopeful these ‘green shoots’ will be recognised by hospital inspectors later this month.

The trust has been in special measures since last July, when NHS chief Sir Bruce Keogh made wide-ranging criticisms of the way it was run, and the visit from the Care Quality Commission on April 29 will be key to determining whether the necessary changes are being made.

Mr Birrell, who has held various interim CEO positions at troubled health trusts, said: “We are seeing green shoots and I’m pretty confident, but will the CQC recognise those or think we’ve still got a long way to go?

“If they say we’re inadequate then we’ve got serious concerns because we don’t think what we’re doing is inadequate.”

He said the trust’s main problems were around governance and risk management issues and added: “We wouldn’t have wanted to change the quality of care and clinical standards. I would be happy to be treated here and I say that genuinely.

“What we weren’t doing was the stuff around it, like not learning from complaints or making sure we took a compassionate approach."

Prof Fairhurst, who has been acknowledged as an ‘outstanding leader’ and was awarded an MBE for services to the NHS in 2008, said: “It’s a very challenging situation but something we really have an opportunity to improve.

“It’s been challenging because there’s been such a big agenda. But the staff have been extremely helpful and willing to take on new ideas and commissioners have also been helpful and co-operative. The media are also giving us a better hearing and it seems the cloud is starting to lift from the organisation.”