THE CEO of Salisbury Hospital who led it through the height of a pandemic said there's "quite a long way to go" to address discharge delays.

Stacey Hunter will leave her role as chief executive officer of Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust on January 31, 2024, to run North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and James Cook NHS Hospital.

The promotion will see the current deputy CEO Lisa Thomas step up to replace Ms Hunter until a new chief is appointed to run the hospital on a more permanent basis.

In an exclusive interview with the Journal, Ms Hunter said there "has been a conversation" about whether it would be a good idea to put Salisbury into a group with neighbouring trusts including Great Western Hospitals and Royal United Hospitals Bath.

But, voicing her own opinion, she said: "Putting ourselves into a group model isn't necessarily the right thing to do for Salisbury Hospital.

"There are lots of things we do together with Bath and Swindon but it's limited from a clinical perspective in terms of geography and travel times. The practicalities don't work."

Ms Hunter said efforts should be focused on maximising the effectiveness of local partnerships, such as how the hospital interacts with GP surgeries, rather than the wider workings of NHS bodies.

"If I'm a person being looked after I should not know when I've crossed an organisational boundary because why would I care? I'd just want it to work seamlessly. That for me is a lot more about our local partnerships than it is about what else we might carve out between ourselves, Great Western and Bath Hospitals," she said.

Bed blocking: "We've got quite a long way to go"

Ms Hunter told the Journal that roughly 20 per cent of hospital beds at any one time are occupied by people who are fit to be sent home but their onward arrangements are not ready, effectively blocking beds for people who are unfit to leave the hospital.

Ms Hunter said this is a particular problem in Wiltshire and at peak times the percentage can rise to 25 despite the goal being "five to six per cent", adding: "It will take us quite a long time to achieve that."

To tackle this, social workers and therapists working for Wiltshire Council are now stationed in the same building and Ms Hunter said this has improved communication.

"That's starting to help us see improvements but we've got quite a long way to go still," she added.

Salisbury Journal: Stacey Hunter will start her new job in Teesside on February 1.Stacey Hunter will start her new job in Teesside on February 1. (Image: Salisbury Journal)

Construction of Imber Ward, a new £14m building housing 24 beds, is on track to be completed in May 2024. This ward will house elderly medical patients who are currently taking up beds in surgical wards.

Ms Hunter hopes she is leaving the hospital in a better position than when she took over in September 2020.

"Part of that is because we are in a much better place around Covid for obvious reasons. It's no longer a brand-new disease that we don't know anything about," she explained.

During the second wave of Covid, which hit the UK around December 2020, Salisbury went from being the least-affected hospital to having the single highest number of patients in the whole of the southwest.

The military was called in to support the hospital for four weeks in January.

Ms Hunter proudly announced that during her time at Salisbury District Hospital, it has achieved the gold standard from the Armed Forces Covenant.

Salisbury Journal: Stacey Hunter became CEO of the trust that owns Salisbury District Hospital in September 2020.Stacey Hunter became CEO of the trust that owns Salisbury District Hospital in September 2020. (Image: Spencer Mulholland)

Discharge times for hip replacement patients have dropped from an average of 16 days in November 2022 to just six days in 2023.

Beatrice Birth Centre, a midwifery-led unit, opened on October 28, 2022, to offer mothers a non-clinical place to stay which has been a "very significant improvement".

"We're doing well with our elective recovery. We've been thinking about a much broader set of things and we've got a really clear strategy for the organisation around people, population and partnerships," Ms Hunter added.

"It's a lovely, quite special place to work because there are some amazing people. The community hold the hospital in very high regard and that's really important to us colleagues. I think the hospital is on a really good trajectory and I'm really confident it will continue to do some brilliant stuff because it has got some amazing people."