LEIGHTON Hospital has defended its standards of care despite falling down the NHS league table for failing to meet targets.
Simon Yates, chief executive of the Mid Cheshire Hospitals Trust which runs the Crewe hospital, said he was 'absolutely disappointed' at the hospital being reduced from two stars to just one.
The trust was assessed against a set of performance indicators including treatment times in casualty, waiting times for cancer operations and over-all cleanliness.
Watchdogs also assessed how long outpatients have to wait for an appointment and how the trust dealt with its finances.
Leighton fell short because it did not see 98% of casualty patients within four hours during the last quarter of 2004.
It also failed to meet the target for dealing with day case patients and in-patients, who were found to be waiting more than the maximum nine months for surgery.
Overall, Leighton did meet six of the eight targets set by the independent Health Care Commission.
Cleanliness increased, helping to stem last year's spate of MRSA superbug cases.
Defending his hospital, Mr Yates said the stars did not reflect a true picture of overall performance.
Accident & Emergency missed the goal for four-hour waits in the final months of 2004, but in 2005 it has met targets despite an increase in patient numbers.
Mr Yates said: 'The star rating does not reflect the tremendous work undertaken by our staff across every area of the trust in the past year to raise standards of care, or the fact that we only missed two targets by a fraction in each case.
'The criteria against which the trust is judged gets tougher and more demanding every year but in many of the performance indicators we have either improved on our scores or maintained them.
'Infection control, stroke care and hospital food all scored very well.'
He said the number of day case patients waiting for more than nine months is now at its lowest - just six now exceed the target, two less would have met the target.
But Leighton did not fair well against the Countess of Chester Hospital which earned three stars and the University Hospital of North Staffordshire's two stars.
Mr Yates said : 'It is important to note that we missed the target by the tiniest of fractions.
'This was because of a 9% rise in emergency surgical admissions last year, and a delay in implementing a new contract for orthopaedic procedures.
'Our new £12m treatment centre is on schedule to open in October. It is expected to treat 20,000 day case surgery patients a year, leading to a marked reduction in waiting times.'
THE Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Forum which represents Leighton Hospital and Northwich Infirmary patients said it was disappointed with the drop to one star.
Spokesman Stuart Blackwell said: 'The feedback we receive from patients and the public is that these are not bad hospitals We will continue to work in partnership with the trust to improve results.'
How the system works
ANNUAL ratings of performance NHS trusts in England are published by the Healthcare Commission, the independent healthcare inspectorate.
Star ratings show how well an NHS organisation is performing. The star ratings give an overview of how good the trust's service is to its patients, how well it is run and whether it is performing well on factors like reducing waiting times.
Star ratings are awarded depending on how a trust has performed against a set of Performance Indicators (PIs) set by the Healthcare Commission.
The league tables were launched four years ago by the Government, which believed there was too much variation in the performance of NHS trusts.
Overall this year's ratings show an improvement in the performance of the NHS against tougher waiting time targets for outpatient appointments and operations, as well as lower death rates for cancer and heart disease.
But for the first time in four years there was a drop in the number of acute hospital trusts with three stars. nTrusts with the highest levels of performance in the measured areas are awarded three stars. nThose with mostly high levels of performance, but not consistent across all measured areas, are awarded two stars. nTrusts where there is some cause for concern are awarded one star. nTrusts showing the poorest levels of measured performance receive zero stars.
Ambulance service slumps
AN investigation is under way after the ambulance service covering South Cheshire was reduced to a zero star trust.
The Mersey Regional Ambulance Service (MRAS) was labelled worst for response times - one of only three in England to receive such an indictment.
Of these, the MRAS missed the most targets leading to a fall from two stars to zero in the latest performance ratings published by the independent Healthcare Commission.
In 2004/5 its ambulance fleet reached only 73.7% of emergency calls in eight minutes - the target was 75% - and 91.9% in 14 minutes - target 95%.
The performance for less urgent category B calls was bleaker, with just 68.4% of calls reached in 14 minutes against a target of 95%.
The zero rating triggers an inquiry by the Cheshire and Merseyside Strategic Health Authority, helped by a Department of Health recovery and support unit.
MRSA chairman Ken Hoskisson said: 'We are taking these matters very seriously and working hard to improve.'