‘Dirty and unsafe’: Whipps Cross hospital told it must make urgent changes

Inspectors reported cases of women having to wait up to four hours to be seen at a labour ward

Babies and mothers were exposed to infection risk at an east London maternity ward that was described in a damning report by the NHS watchdog as “dirty and unsafe”.

Patients at Whipps Cross University Hospital in Leytonstone, part of the Barts Health NHS Trust, were treated among “overfilled bins and stained floors, wards and curtains” on the maternity ward, a Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection found, with serious problems also identified on the elderly care and surgical wards.

The CQC has issued the trust with three formal warnings following unannounced inspections, and warned that it must make urgent improvements or face sanctions that could extend to senior managers being removed from their posts by the health service regulator Monitor.

Inspectors reported cases of women having to wait up to four hours to be seen at a labour ward because there was not always a doctor available in the triage area.

Staffing problems also affected elderly care wards, where patients who needed assistance with their meals went without help, and water was sometimes left out of reach. Inspectors said wards sometimes did not have enough staff on duty to meet patients’ needs and that, in some cases, staff did not show “the compassion that people deserve”.

In the surgery department, clinicians trained in specialist paediatric life support were not always available and staffing on two wards was “inadequate”.

Surgery mortality rates at the hospital were higher than national averages, the inspectors said, and in the six months before the inspections, the hospital’s accident and emergency department had failed to meet national targets to see 95 per cent of patients within four hours.

Matthew Trainer, the regional director of the CQC for London, said: “The reports we have published today show a systematic catalogue of failings across the departments we looked at during our inspections in May and June. We found that, in places, the hospital was unsafe and dirty, and that staff didn’t always show patients the compassion that people deserve. Patients were not receiving the care and support they should have been able to expect – and in some cases, this was putting them at risk of harm.”

Barts Health NHS Trust is one of six considered high risk by the CQC’s new chief inspector of hospitals, Sir Mike Richards. It will be inspected under his new regime before Christmas, but CQC inspectors will also return unannounced to  Whipps Cross “in the near future” to scrutinise progress on the report's recommendations.

The trust has apologised to patients and said it was making “urgent improvements to patient safety and standards of care”.

“Barts Health is committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of every one of our patients and we are extremely sorry for the failings in some of our services at Whipps Cross Hospital,” trust chief executive Peter Morris said. “We have taken immediate action to rectify the failures to ensure we meet standards across the hospitals at all times.”

The trust has pledged to run enhanced training courses for all maternity and elderly care staff; senior managers are being drafted in to Whipps Cross from other parts of the trust; and processes on maternity wards have been changed.

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