Failing hospital condemns hundreds to death
Poor nursing, filthy wards and lack of leadership at Basildon and Thurrock University NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust contributed to 400 avoidable deaths in a year.
Death rates at the Essex trust were a third higher than they should have been, said the Care Quality Commission, the health care watchdog.
Among the worst failings were a lack of basic nursing skills, curtains spattered with blood on wards, mould in vital equipment and patients being left in A&E; for up to 10 hours.
Concerns about death rates at the foundation hospital trust were first raised a year ago, but an internal investigation failed to find anything wrong and senior managers dismissed the concerns.
But the new external report found “systematic failings” in the trust’s senior management team, who are still in their jobs. The CQC said its confidence in the management’s ability had been “severely dented”.
The watchdog’s report follows an investigation earlier this year into Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which found similar problems, with up to 1,200 avoidable deaths.
Ministers assured patients at the time that it was an isolated incident. The failures at Basildon will raise concerns that similar problems are widespread in the NHS.
Among the CQC’s other findings were the avoidable deaths of four patients with learning disabilities; a lack of children’s nurses and doctors in A&E; a failure to feed patients properly or give medication correctly; and a high rate of bedsores among elderly patients. Concerns about standards at Basildon were raised as long ago as 2001, when the Royal College of Nursing described conditions there as “Third World” because of a shortage of beds. Since then the hospital has suffered a series of health scares and accusations of negligence.
The CQC report has been passed on to Monitor, the organisation in charge of foundation hospital trusts.
A statement by Monitor said there had been a “significant breach” by Basildon and a task force of experts would be sent into the trust.
Monitor has the power to replace the trust’s management but it was understood last night that none of the board members had been threatened with dismissal.
Katherine Murphy, the director of the Patients Association said: “Yet again patients are being neglected. Lack of monitoring, lack of help with feeding, lack of dignity, avoidable pressure sores. How many times do the public need to keep hearing about this before the Government is embarrassed enough to do something about it?
“We’re sick and tired of NHS managers and senior staff walking away unscathed when families are left with a life sentence of grief.”
Basildon was one of the country’s first foundation trusts in 2004, meaning it was given more freedom over its spending and did not have to answer to ministers. Mid-Staffordshire was also a foundation trust, raising concerns that the system is failing. It also emerged that Basildon was the first foundation trust to be issued with a warning notice about poor infection control earlier this month over hygiene in its A&E; department and contamination of medical equipment.
The trust, which has a budget of £250 million and more than 700 beds at its main hospital in Basildon, has repeatedly pledged to improve but failed to do so, the CQC said.
Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said: “I am extremely disturbed by this news and the effect that these shocking conditions may have had on patients. It is unforgivable if any lives have been needlessly lost.
“When the appalling standards of care at Stafford Hospital were revealed, we were assured by Labour ministers that it was ‘an isolated case’ — that sort of complacency is simply not good enough.”
Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, has proposed a change in the law to allow trusts to be stripped of foundation status if they fail.
The CQC had been aware of problems at Basildon for more than a year and was in contact with managers to correct the situation. Repeat inspections found no improvement. From next April, the CQC can take action, including fines, and, if necessary, closures of departments or the whole hospital. Cynthia Bower, the watchdog’s chief executive, said: “We want to act swiftly at Basildon to nip problems in the bud, working closely with other regulators. The trust has taken our concerns seriously but improvements are simply not happening fast enough.
“Our confidence in the management’s ability to deliver on commitments and to turn the situation around has been severely dented.”