BURNLEY General Hospital controversially lost its emergency ward in 2007, but has since become established as East Lancashire’s main centre for planned surgery, from routine hip or knee replacements to mastectomies.

And despite the damning findings of last year’s inspection by NHS chief Sir Bruce Keogh, many patients gave the inspectors glowing reports about the wards and nurses at Burnley.

Among those to win praise was Ward 15, which was described as ‘wonderful’ by one.

Andrea Warburton, the ward sister, admitted it had been a difficult year, but said she was always confident they were providing good care.

She said: “We’d seen a lot of stuff in the press but I think there was almost a sense of relief when the report was published. It’s obviously been difficult and it’s had a knock-on effect on staff morale.

“But we can only look at what the staff do within these walls and we feel they are doing a really good job.”

Andrea, who has worked for the trust since 1998, said the main challenge was managing the number of beds, as the patient numbers can range from anything between 20 and 48 each week, but staff were able to achieve this by thorough discharge planning for each patient.

Her positivity appears to have rubbed off on the junior staff, including 22-year-old student nurse Katie Smith, who said: “I’ve been with the trust for 18 months and I love it.

“I was worried about the stuff I’d read about the NHS but I’ve not seen any of that here. If anything that bad press made me want to be a nurse even more.”

Meanwhile, staff in the day surgery unit, who deal with nearly 70 patients per day, said it had been difficult to read about the trust’s problems while knowing their department had performed well.

Although it must be tempting for Burnley staff to blame the emergency services at the Royal Blackburn Hospital, nurse Vikki McLoughlin, a senior sister in the day cases unit, said it was important for the two sites to work together.

She highlighted the drive to get more patients seen at Burnley, which should relieve pressure at Blackburn, and added: We just want patients to have the best experience they can so we want the other departments to succeed.”

Her husband Duncan McLoughlin, who is operational manager for the day surgery theatres, said: “Both our areas here got a glowing report from Keogh but that’s not to say that overall we don’t need to do anything to improve.”.

Patient Malcolm Bell, 49, a machine setter from Burnley, said: “I’ve had a full hip replacement on the Friday and I’m going home by the Monday. The care and attitude of the nurses has been 100 per cent. I don’t think you’d get better in a private hospital.”

Maternity is the other major service provided at Burnley, with the hospital now delivering all doctor-led births in East Lancashire. The department, which includes a midwife-led unit, recently received a huge boost when it was awarded the ‘Maternity Service of the Year’ award by the Royal College of Midwives.

Deborah Murphy, one of the unit’s 45 midwives, said things can be tough when the wards are full, but she still loves the job.

She added: “To hear the negative feeback is always difficult because we are providing the best care that we can. I wouldn’t want anything different.”

Student midwife Esther Fee said: “It is really hard work but I’ve had loads of one-on-one support from my colleagues.”

Behind the scenes a 34-strong team of office staff has the complex job of organising the surgery lists, working with a spreadsheet of 9,000 patients to make sure theatre sessions are filled and waiting targets are met.

In response to the Keogh probe they have taken measures to streamline the process, such as combining patients’ pre-op assessments with their first outpatient appointment.

Elective admissions manager Sue Miller said: “It can be difficult when we get an influx of patients at A&E and we might have to cancel procedures, and things can change very quickly. But I think we’re doing okay.”