Children’s lives put at risk by poor care at specialist hospital

Children’s lives were put at risk by the poor standard of care at a specialist hospital, according to the second damning report into health provision to be published this week.

An investigation by the Healthcare Commission found that there was a shortage of beds at Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust as managers “struggled” to meet rising demand for treatment.

This meant that seriously ill young people were admitted late while others were sent to different hospitals miles away from their families.

Surgeons warned that theatre staff were poorly trained, handed them the wrong instruments and even knocked their hands during critical operations. In addition, managers failed to act when they were warned of the dangers by consultants, the report said.

Paul O’Connor, the hospital’s chief executive, resigned two weeks ago.

It comes just days after another report by the watchdog found that as many as 1,200 patients may have died needlessly at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, as managers put targets and cost cutting ahead of care.

Describing the situation in Birmingham, Anna Walker, the chief executive of the Healthcare Commission, said: “While we have no evidence of serious incidents causing harm to patients, the standard of care has not been as good as it should have been in some cases.

“The response to safety concerns has been slower than ideal. It is deeply concerning that serious issues were raised but not properly or rapidly addressed over several months. While I would not say there were ‘third-world’ conditions, there were serious potential risks in the way care was provided.”

Birmingham Children’s Hospital is one of only four specialist hospitals for young people in England, caring for 140,000 patients in 2007-8.

Last year it was rated “excellent” for use of resources by the Healthcare Commission although only “fair” in terms of quality of services.

Senior staff at nearby University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust met managers from the children’s hospital last June to discuss their concerns about standards of care.

They then wrote a highly critical report that was obtained by a Sunday newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act before it had even been seen by the children’s hospital, prompting the Government to order an official investigation in December.

The Healthcare Commission found that because of increasing demand for treatment at the hospital, average bed occupancy was running at more than 98 per cent.

This led to 28 per cent of admissions being cancelled on the day and 70 children a month being sent to other hospitals for treatment because there was no room for them in Birmingham.

The report said this is a “special concern” for patients with liver problems, who need to be seen urgently.

Many members of staff also warned it was “very challenging” to get access to operating theatres for urgent but not life-threatening cases. There are only two days on which neurosurgery sessions take place, meaning that children admitted after Wednesday have to wait until the following Monday for treatment unless they are put on the emergency list.

This situation was said to have led to several “near misses” and was a risk to patients.

The watchdog found that “almost all” consultants were worried that they could not use interventional radiology to diagnose patients because demand was so high.

Surgeons said theatre staff did not always know what instruments were required for operations, and sometimes consultants brought their own equipment because the hospital did not have it.

Leadership of the neurosurgical ward was said to be inadequate, driving nurses to resign.

The watchdog concluded that it was “deeply concerning” that serious concerns had been raised but not dealt with properly, causing “alarm and anxiety” among patients and their families.

It made 12 recommendations about how the children’s hospital can improve, including monitoring demand better and working on its relationships with consultants.


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