A troubled foundation trust is to be placed into special measures after inspectors reported a catalogue of repeated failings, including unsafe staffing levels and missed accident and emergency targets.
The Care Quality Commission has said today that the quality of care provided at Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals Foundation Trust was inadequate, leading the watchdog to recommend the move, which was subsequently confirmed by fellow regulator Monitor.
An unannounced inspection by the CQC at the Wexham Park site last October found evidence of inadequate care, regular short staffing on “almost all wards”, and a culture where “staff did not always feel they could raise concerns”.
This is the third time in two years that the CQC has found evidence of inadequate care at the trust, which is expected to be acquired in the near future by neighbouring Frimley Park Hospital Foundation Trust.
In the meantime, Frimley Park has agreed to “buddy” with the trust in order to help it improve.
Inspectors’ probe of the trust’s Wexham Park Hospital site in Slough found that unsafe staffing levels were a “consistent theme” throughout the trust.
The trust’s heavy reliance on agency staff and failure to consistently meet national targets to admit, transfer or discharge patients from the A&E department within four hours, were also reported.
While the trust had opened extra beds to meet demand, inspectors found little evidence of initiatives to reduce unnecessary admissions.
“The legacy of these problems is all too apparent in the safety culture, the staffing levels, and the overflowing wards”
Although regulators found the hospital’s children’s department and critical care unit were both providing a good service, a culture of safety was lacking in most of the hospital, they said.
Prior to this announcement, Frimley Park’s acquisition of the trust was intended to be completed by August, subject to regulatory approval. As yet it is unclear what effect the trust being put in special measures will have on this timetable.
The regulator identified a total of 18 areas for improvement at Heatherwood and Wexham Park. Among these was a need to properly recruit and retain staff, better staff engagement among clinicians and managers and an incident reporting culture must be encouraged at all levels.
Patient flow must be addressed as a priority to improve the poor waiting times in A&E, the high number of surgical cancellations and delayed discharges from the critical care unit.
England’s chief inspector of hospitals, Sir Mike Richards said: “We know that Wexham Park Hospital has had a long history of problems − and the legacy of these problems is all too apparent in the safety culture, the staffing levels, and the overflowing wards.”
Sir Mike added that the situation could not go on and that the trust leadership, in its present form, is not equipped to make the changes needed to turn the hospital around.
“It is in everybody’s interests that we see the improvements process start immediately − and so I welcome the arrangements made with Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to support Heatherwood and Wexham Park NHS Foundation Trust at this time.”
Mark Turner, regional director at Monitor, said: “Patients deserve better, and performance to date has simply not been good enough. They want good quality care provided by their local hospital. The best way for this to happen is a takeover by Frimley Park, and we’re working hard to help make this happen.”
Frimley Park said in statement: “We are very much aware of the complex issues at Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. In supporting it we will do all we can to help lift the trust’s performance and improve services for local people, while continuing to explore its potential acquisition.
“With regard to the potential acquisition, the board at Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust continues to work on a full business case examining the prospects of the acquisition in great detail. As previously stated, this stage is due to be finished by the summer.”
CQC statement, Monitor statement, trust statements