NHS chief urged to quit over nurse gaffe

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An NHS Trust chairman was called on to resign yesterday after he was secretly recorded saying temporary nurses hired from recruitment agencies "killed more people than they saved".

An NHS Trust chairman was called on to resign yesterday after he was secretly recorded saying temporary nurses hired from recruitment agencies "killed more people than they saved".

Barrie Blower, the head of Walsall Hospitals NHS Trust, said of the gaffe that he had been trying to put a woman, who had come to see him about the death of her mother in one of the trust's hospitals, at ease by empathising with her distress.

But he did not know that Tracy Davies had smuggled in a tape recorder to ensure that he could not back down at a later date on anything he told her. During a three-hour meeting, Mr Blower alluded to problems with agency nurses. Mr Blower, in the recording passed to ITV's Central News, said: "We've got this awful set-up. We advertise in the Philippines and in India to get nurses to be attached to the hospital to try to get rid of these agency people. They kill more people than they bloody save these do, but it's an awful bloody set-up but we've got to have them."

The chairman later apologised and retracted his comments, saying there was no evidence to suggest the quality of care offered by agency nurses was any different from that offered by permanent staff. He said: "The way I chose to express this was completely inappropriate and inaccurate, and I withdraw it unreservedly."

Sue James, the trust chief executive, said a check of employment records had shown there were no more incidents and complaints involving agency nurses than permanent staff. The trust employed 26 agency nurses to every 1,000 permanent nurses. Ms James said: "Our patients can have every confidence in the care we offer, regardless of what type of nurse actually provides it."

Unison, the public sector union, called yesterday for Mr Blower to resign. Pete Lowe, the union's regional officer, said the chairman's remarks were a disgrace and would demoralise staff. He said: "Many of the agency nurses he refers to are permanent staff employed by the Trust who are doing additional hours. So he's attacking his own staff. His remarks are an insult to all nursing staff; in fact to all staff working in Walsall Hospitals NHS Trust."

The meeting between Ms Davies and Mr Blower took place in January, following the death of Shirley Sargent in Manor hospital, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer, on 11 December.

* The standard of hospital care has improved across the NHS in England and Wales during the past four years but unacceptable variations exist, the Commission for Health Improvement said. Dr Jocelyn Cornwell, the acting chief executive, said: "Trusts are taking the involvement of patients more seriously."

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