The Nursing and Midwifery Council is considering action against nurses and nurse leaders at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Foundation Trust in response to reports of poor care standards.
The NMC will carry out an inspection at the trust later this week, which it says will be only the second of its kind, and could also result in the trust being stopped from taking trainees.
A Care Quality Commission report leaked on 26 November said it had found blood-stained curtains, a lack of privacy for patients, soiled mattresses and equipment past its use-by date. Three days later health information firm Dr Foster reported the trust had an unexpectedly high death rate in 2008-09.
In a statement on Thursday the NMC said it had asked the CQC, Dr Foster and foundation regulator Monitor for their evidence that “patient safety may have been compromised due to poor nursing or midwifery care”.
NMC chief executive and registrar Professor Dickon Weir-Hughes said it would then decide “what appropriate courses of action should be taken”. The NMC confirmed this could include fitness to practice cases.
The regulator will inspect the trust on 11 and 12 December and check whether it is providing “a quality learning environment for nursing and midwifery students”. The NMC said the only comparison was an inspection at the North West London Hospitals Trust in 2005 which was prompted by a damning Healthcare Commission report on its maternity services, and resulted in trainees being removed.
An NMC spokesman said: “What has alarmed us is that people from all levels have come to us [since the news reports] and said, ‘We have known there have been problems for months.’ Why didn’t they come forward earlier?”
Meanwhile, Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Foundation Trust director of nursing Maggie Rogers has defended the trust. She said the reports did not reflect general standards at the trust. However, she said the problems found by the CQC should have been reported to senior staff by nurses or others.
Ms Rogers told Nursing Times: “There were senior staff who should have escalated that further. That would have been part of their role.
“We rely on the staff and teams to escalate anything they are not happy with because they essentially accountable. There is no doubt if anybody had escalated that level of hygiene deficit we would have acted on it.”
Reporting those conditions was a “joint responsibility of facilities staff and clinical staff”, she said.
Ms Rogers said she had been working to increase nurse numbers at the trust and make sure the mix of experience and skill was right. But she said: “We have been embarrassed by what the CQC found and have learned a very embarrassing lesson.”