A hospital trust has been placed in special measures after a critical inspection by health bosses raised serious concerns.
The report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) released today rated West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust – which runs the hospitals in Hemel Hempstead, Watford and St Albans – as inadequate overall.
The inspection, which was carried out in April, highlighted a number of weakness with insufficient staffing, ageing equipment and buildings, risk management and national waiting time targets.
Jac Kelly, the trust’s interim chief executive, said: “The report is clearly disappointing news for staff, who daily go above and beyond to ensure our patients receive the care and treatment they deserve and need.
“The majority of our staff were found to be caring and compassionate but we are very sorry for where we have fallen short.
“We welcome the special support we have been offered as we know that we have a big challenge ahead to ensure our care is consistent across all out services.”
Both Watford General and St Albans Hospitals were graded as inadequate, while Hemel Hempstead Hospital was given a ‘requires improvement’ rating.
The main points of concern raised in the report related to high stress levels among staff, with a significant dependency on agency staff as well as insufficient numbers to provide adequate care.
Other shortcomings were failure to meet national waiting time standards, a lack of a safety culture and a minimal ‘systematic approach to reporting and analysis of incidents with little evidence of trust-wide learning’.
However, the care provided by staff in the children’s emergency department was rated as outstanding and the dementia team were praised for their recovery programme which helps patients return home early with support, rather than moving to a care home.
Though the report has only been published today Ms Kelly assured patients and staff that improvement work has been in progress since the first inspection at Watford last November, as well as the follow-up visit in April.
One of the first steps taken by the trust in response to the CQC’s inspection was to close the private obstetric service to allow consultant obstetricians and midwives to focus their support on expectant mothers under NHS care.
Immediate action was also taken to ensure patients walking into the Emergency Department at Watford General were assessed by a medical professional within 15 minutes of arrival.
Despite the disappointing report, the trust’s performance is visibly improving with many national standards achieved or exceeded.
Mortality rates have fallen by 21 per cent since April 2013, compared to a national reduction of 3.3 per cent.
Cases of superbug Clostridium Difficile – known as C-Diff – have fallen by 396 in 2007/08 to 23 cases last year, and the trust is maintaining zero cases of MRSA.
Diagnostic times for cancer patients now meet national standards and the trust has more than 2.200 fewer patients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment.
Mike van der Watt, medical director, said: “Mortality rates are the truest indicator of safety and patients should be reassured that the trust is now in the top 12 per cent nationally.
“We can and should raise quality standards further and I am committed to making sure we do exactly that.”
Geoff Brown, chair of Hertfordshire Health Watch, said: “While this report is clearly not what we would wish for local people in west Herts, we do know that the trust is determined to deliver improvements in care.
There are some areas of strong practice and we encourage the trust to ensure this is translated across all services.”