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MP wants action after new safety fears raised at north Cumbria hospitals

A new safety scare at north Cumbria’s hospitals has prompted an MP to call on the health secretary to intervene to prevent a major care crisis similar to that in Mid Staffordshire.

Cumberland Infirmary photo
The Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle

It emerged today that staff at the Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital flagged up a catalogue of near misses and safety concerns with bosses over a two-week period last month.

They included an incident where a patient’s oxygen was mistakenly turned off and another where urgent scan results – showing a patient required emergency surgery – were not passed on to medical teams.

Staff also reported concerns that A&E departments were unsafe due to lack of beds and staff.

Copeland MP Jamie Reed, Labour’s shadow health minister, has now written to health secretary Andrew Lansley, calling for urgent intervention.

If action is not taken, he fears north Cumbria could end up in a crisis similar to the Mid Staffordshire scandal, where up to 1,200 patients died because bosses put targets and cost-cutting over standards of care.

He told the News & Star: “The trust is in chaos.

“The examples of poor care that have been revealed are absolutely unacceptable and they cannot be tolerated any longer.

“Anyone using our hospital services has the absolute right to expect that they are receiving the best available care, but anyone who has used these services recently – as I have – knows that it is only the dedication and expertise of front line professionals that is holding the system together.

“We have seen this in other parts of the country at other trusts and we know how this ends unless urgent interventions are made now, that’s why it is vital for the Secretary of State to step in.”

It is just the latest in a series of concerns about care standards and staffing levels at the Carlisle and Whitehaven hospitals, which are soon to be taken over due to long-standing financial problems – leading to major cost-cutting efforts across the trust.

In the latest staff survey, the hospitals were rated among the worst in the country by those working there, with a large proportion saying they would not recommend the trust as a place to work or receive treatment.

The trust this morning refused to answer questions put to it by the News & Star, but did insist it had a robust system in place for monitoring and investigating incidents.

The confidential logs were reported to bosses at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust as part of its medical weekly reports live procedure.

They cover a two-week period in April.

They include reports of lack of beds, staff and monitors in A&E.

On one occasion the department was described as “dangerous” and “not even meeting basic nursing care for patients”.

Asked for her opinion on the logs, Dr Heather Wood – a retired hospital inspector with the Healthcare Commission – said they should “set alarm bells ringing”.

But a trust spokeswoman this morning insisted the logs were all part of efforts to improve feedback so lessons could be learnt.

“As part of improving the feedback to staff, the trust produces a weekly report on incidents reported,” she said.

“This is to ensure that lessons can be shared across wards and departments and encourages an open and transparent patient safety culture for the reporting of incidents and near misses.

“The trust has a robust system for monitoring incidents and investigating them thoroughly, this includes a weekly review by the Director of Nursing, Medical Director and Director of Governance to ensure incident trends or incidents which have resulted in a high impact or adverse outcome are immediately reviewed.

“In line with all other NHS Trusts, we will continue to encourage open and transparent reporting.”

However Stephanie Dunn, from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said they have been flagging up similar issues with senior managers for over a year now.

“It’s a year since we raised our concerns. We have spoken to the strategic health authority and overview and scrutiny committee.

“It is saddening to see these type of incidents are still happening,” she said.

“There will always be mistakes but the alarm bells go off when you see the same type of things happening time and time again. We are seeing near misses and incidents of minimum or moderate harm.

“In a good robust system these things shouldn’t be happening at all, but especially not in such a short period.”

She added that the RCN believes the problem is not just within the trust, but across the whole of Cumbria’s health and social care system.

Have your say

I am one of the nurses at the hospital and can truthfully tell you that staff levels are dangerous. Most of us are exhausted and moral cannot get any lower. Cost cutting was put before patient care a long time ago. We are asked to fill in an Audit every day on staffing levels. Those staffing levels are the new cut levels that the trust have set. These do not match up with the number of staff safely set country wide. For example a 6 bed coronary care unit should have 3 members of qualified staff on duty. The trust however has decided only 2 is safe (this was set by managers who have no cardiac experience what so ever). The audit each day of course now states that areas are fully staffed. Shocking.

Posted by Nurse on 21 July 2012 at 07:30

errr.... Jamie? Why is the Cumberland infirmary in so much debt? Could it be something to do with the PFI 'Mortgage' that costs an absolute fortune every year? Or the increase in 'managers' since Labour started the privatisation of the NHS in it's last spell in Government?

Posted by Craig on 22 May 2012 at 15:32

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