Hos­pi­tals in cri­sis as safety warn­ings dou­ble

NHS watch­dogs is­sue 135 en­force­ment ac­tions in 2016-17, rais­ing ma­jor con­cerns over pa­tient care

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Laura Don­nelly HEALTH ED­I­TOR

A GROW­ING cri­sis in hospi­tal safety is re­vealed in of­fi­cial fig­ures show­ing a dou­bling in the num­ber of legal warn­ings is­sued by NHS watch­dogs.

The Care Qual­ity Com­mis­sion (CQC) took 135 “en­force­ment ac­tions” against hos­pi­tals in 2016-17, a rise from 58 the pre­vi­ous year, records show.

Over­crowd­ing and staff short­ages on health ser­vice wards were com­mon themes in the no­tices, which are is­sued when care is so poor that it falls be­low legal re­quire­ments.

The find­ings were dis­closed in the run-up to the CQC’s an­nual State of Care re­port, which is ex­pected to raise con­cerns about the ca­pac­ity of NHS trusts to cope with height­ened pres­sures.

Prof Ted Baker, chief in­spec­tor of hos­pi­tals, said the num­ber of pa­tients trapped in hospi­tal, for lack of care, meant many would suf­fer mus­cle wastage, con­demn­ing too many to lives of frailty. “Acute hos­pi­tals should not be places that peo­ple stay long term just be­cause the rest of the sys­tem can’t man­age them,” he said.

“Th­ese pa­tients are not get­ting the care they need and that can af­fect their long-term chances of re­cov­ery very sig­nif­i­cantly. If you put a frail el­derly per­son in an acute hospi­tal bed and they stay there too long they lose their abil­ity to lead an in­de­pen­dent life.

“They lose their mus­cle strength, they of­ten lose their bone strength and they of­ten be­come much frailer.” Re­cent ac­tions in­clude a warn­ing no­tice to Royal Corn­wall Hos­pi­tals Trust af­ter in­spec­tors found pa­tients dy­ing and left to go blind fol­low­ing long waits for treat­ment.

Queen Alexan­dra Hospi­tal in Portsmouth was con­demned for putting pa­tients at “un­ac­cept­able risk” by leav­ing 16 am­bu­lances to queue out­side. And We­ston Area Health Trust in Som­er­set has closed its A&E at night, af­ter in­spec­tors warned of dan­ger­ous lev­els of crowd­ing. Tues­day’s re­port is ex­pected to high­light high bed oc­cu­pancy lev­els in NHS hos­pi­tals, which are ap­proach­ing 90 per cent even be­fore win­ter is un­der way.

Prof Baker said hos­pi­tals were un­der “tremen­dous pres­sure” long be­fore win­ter set in, with far too many pa­tients de­layed in hospi­tal for want of the right care in the com­mu­nity. He also high­lighted wide­spread short­ages of nurses and doc­tors.

“Most hos­pi­tals we go to have dif­fi­cul­ties re­cruit­ing all the nurses they need – that’s also true of doc­tors,” he said. “You go to any trust and they will say work­force is their pri­mary con- cern,” he added. Prof Baker, who took up the post of chief in­spec­tor of hos­pi­tals in Au­gust, added that staff were ded­i­cated, but un­der enor­mous strain.

“The thing that holds this all to­gether when we are un­der pres­sure is the ded­i­ca­tion and com­mit­ment of front-line staff – the doc­tors, the nurses, the paramedics, they make a real dif­fer­ence,” he said.

Last year the reg­u­la­tor warned that so­cial care was ap­proach­ing a “tip­ping point” with David Be­han, the watch­dog’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, say­ing it was the worst cri­sis he had seen in 40 years.

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