Hospitals in crisis as safety warnings double
NHS watchdogs issue 135 enforcement actions in 2016-17, raising major concerns over patient care
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.