Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been rated as “requires improvement” following an inspection by the Care Quality Commission.
A team of CQC inspectors concluded that the trust required improvement for providing safe, responsive and well led care, though its services were viewed as caring and effective.
During January and February, the inspectors visited Warrington Hospital, Halton Hospital and community services at Bath Street Health and Wellbeing Centre.
“Nurse vacancies were covered by bank and agency staff with regular staff also working overtime”
Warrington Hospital was rated as “requires improvement”, while Halton Hospital and Bath Street Health and Wellbeing Centre were rated as “good”.
The CQC warned that pressures on bed capacity were affecting patient care and experience, with some being treated on wards that were not specific to their condition or best suited to their needs.
Patients were often moved before being placed in an appropriate setting and surgical patients were also affected, because operations were cancelled if inpatient beds were not available.
In addition, discharge processes were slow at Warrington Hospital and inspectors found high numbers of delayed transfers of care from the intensive care unit to appropriate wards.
Inspectors also identified staffing issues at the trust. There was a “heavy reliance” on bank and agency nurses to maintain safe staffing level, they said in their set of reports on their visit.
The CQC noted that the trust was actively recruiting nurses and had increased its staffing levels, but warned that it remained an “ongoing challenge”.
However, inspectors identified a number of areas of outstanding practice, including a purpose built ward for patients living with dementia which was well equipped and well-staffed.
They also said they found every service inspected to be caring and effective, and patients and relatives were extremely positive about the care and support given by healthcare professionals.
All areas visited were clean and well maintained, and robust infection control practices were adhered to by staff.
“We were particularly impressed by the trust’s approach to dementia care”
In addition, staff communicated with and supported people in a compassionate way, and patients and their families spoke positively about their care and treatment
Professor Sir Mike Richards, the CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said: “We found that – across the board – staff were working hard to deliver compassionate care to patients. We were particularly impressed by the trust’s approach to dementia care.
“However, we also found that improvements were required in several areas,” he said, highlighting bed pressures, delayed discharge and staff shortages.
“Although the wards and departments were adequately staffed at the time of our inspection, nurse vacancies were covered by bank and agency staff with regular staff also working overtime,” he said. “This is not a sustainable position in the longer term.”
“The trust has been working for some time to recruit to certain staff groups in the context of national shortages”
In response, trust chief executive Mel Pickup said: “I’m delighted that the inspectors have rated all of our services as both caring and effective without exception and the report has shown the compassion and dedication of our staff.
“There are areas we need to improve on overall but it has not highlighted anything that we didn’t already know about the trust, or some of the system wide health issues that we were already working on,” she said. “We’ve already made changes since January.
“The trust has been working for some time to recruit to certain staff groups in the context of national shortages and, despite the progress we’re making, the comments made by the CQC in relation to staffing were not unexpected,” she added.