NHS England was warned patients were at risk of being harmed by long trolley waits at a West Midlands trust 10 days before three patients died on trolleys, it has been revealed.
Officials from the national commissioning body knew there was a bed “crisis” at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust as early as 22 December when it convened a patient safety “risk summit”, following an inspection of the trust by the Care Quality Commission.
“It was recognised by all partners that we are facing a crisis”
Trust internal message
An internal message to trust staff, leaked to Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal, shows the trust was warning of a “crisis” due to high bed occupancy levels with the risk summit aimed at addressing concerns raised by the CQC.
The message said: “The risk summit reviewed the whole health economy in Worcestershire and was focused on patient safety. It was recognised by all partners that we are facing a crisis as our bed occupancy is too high often over 100% and this needs to be reduced.
“All of our partners have been asked to take immediate actions to help improve patient flow and increase bed capacity. Despite our best efforts patients are waiting too long in corridors putting them at risk of harm and we know this is of real concern to our staff,” it added.
The trust said in the message that it hoped to return bed occupancy levels back to the recommended standard level of 85%. However, more than a week later, during the New Year bank holiday weekend it emerged three patients died while enduring long waits on trolleys in an A&E corridor.
“Worcestershire is the hospital we are most worried about of all”
In one case, the Daily Telegraph reported a women died of a cardiac arrest after waiting for more than 35 hours. It is unclear whether the wait contributed to the death but the trust has launched investigations into all three deaths.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said yesterday that the Worcestershire Royal Hospital was the hospital that the Department of Health was the “most worried about”.
In an interview with ITV News, Mr Hunt said: “Worcestershire is the hospital we are most worried about of all, because what happened there was very serious, the hospital is in special measures, the chief executive has gone, and another from Australia is due to start, but that is a hospital that has very very serious problems…”
Source: Neil O’Connor
The crisis in Worcestershire emerged as the trust published a consultation on the reconfiguration of its services. Under the plans all emergency surgery, paediatrics and maternity services would permanently transfer from the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch to Worcestershire Royal Hospital.
These changes come as the trust is already struggling to cope with demand, according to trust board papers it reported 37 12-hour trolley breaches in A&E during November last year.
It is understood that the results of the CQC inspection report is expected to be communicated to the trust in “early in 2017”.
A spokesman for the trust said: “We welcomed the risk summit and are working with partners in the local health economy to ensure recommendations going forward.
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”The risk summit took place before the patient deaths and whilst we considered issues of patient safety until there is a thorough investigation having been completed we can’t say there is a link between them and any pressures.”
A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “The Worcestershire health and social care community, which includes Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, the three Worcestershire CCGs and Worcestershire County Council met on Thursday 22 December 2016 to consider concerns raised following a recent inspection by the Care Quality Commission.
“The summit was held to agree a programme of action to support to ensure that patient safety is maintained. An agreed set of improvement actions is being implemented,” she said. “A follow up risk summit is due to take place before the end of January to review progress against these actions.”
Information supplied to HSJ