NHS trust apologises to families of patients who died after catching Covid at hospital

Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kings Lynn carried out a transparent review of 389 Covid infections

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Friday 01 October 2021 19:54
<p>Tens of thousands of patients have caught Covid while in hospital during the pandemic </p>

Tens of thousands of patients have caught Covid while in hospital during the pandemic

An NHS trust has apologised to hundreds of families whose relatives caught Covid-19 in hospital and died, after a review found a lack of private rooms contributed to the spread of the virus.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, has carried out a review of all 389 cases of patients who either definitely or probably contracted Covid while in the hospital between March 2020 and February this year. Of those, 151 patients died.

The trust is the only NHS trust to have carried out a full and transparent review of hospital acquired infections of Covid-19 with staff speaking with each family to understand their concerns and views.

The issue of Covid-19 spreading in hospitals is thought to have been a major contributor to the overall number of infections. Papers for the government’s Sage committee have estimated as many as 20 to 25 per cent of hospital cases of Covid during the first wave were caught in the hospital.

The QEH trust sent letters by recorded delivery informing families they relative was likely to have caught Covid in the hospital and this included an apology. The letters were then followed up with a phone call within 48 hours. A dedicated helpline for direct communication with the families was also put in place. In some cases, staff who cared for the patients affected were able to speak with the families and answer any concerns.

The trust published a report on Friday which concluded many of the infections were caused by the lack of private rooms to isolate patients. Only 10 per cent of the hospitals beds are located in side rooms, meaning many patients had to be looked after in open wards where the infection was more easily able to spread.

The trust also acknowledged problems with communication with families during the height of the crisis, when patients were not allowed visitors. During the pandemic it created a new role called a family liaison officer who is able to speak with patients and families and share concerns and information with doctors and nurses.

The nine family liaison officers are also able to help patients with one even doing grocery shopping for relatives at home. The trust’s chief nurse Alice Webster told The Independent this new role would be expanded in light of the review.

She said all families had been offered a copy of the report and a meeting with staff if they wished.

“We are really sorry to these families because we know it has been incredibly difficult,” she added.

She said it was inevitable that some patients without Covid were looked after in wards alongside people with the virus despite the trust following official advice and taking precautions to keep Covid patients away from others.

“Ten per cent of our estate is side rooms and the situation meant we were caring for patients in open wards in bays of four or six,” she said, adding: “There were elements of poor communication where we were moving patients from one place to another. Relatives didn’t always know where there loved one was.”

She said the process had been a positive one for the trust and the families and said she felt other NHS trusts should follow suit: “We have to be honest with people.”

The report, available on the trust’s website, said: “The majority (over 50 per cent) of patients and their families the trust made contact with as part of the Duty of Candour exercise reported that they had no concerns or issues and were thankful and appreciative of the care that they received.”

Of those who had concerns, it added: “Individuals spoke of not being able to see their loved one and all too often finding it difficult to get through to the ward to know what was going on. Some spoke very negatively of the number of moves they had while in our care, often moving from ward to ward and on occasions there were multiple moves for an individual patient, which was of concern and is unacceptable practice.

“Currently, only 10% of our patients are able to be cared for in side rooms and restraints with the hospital’s physical environment posed a very significant challenge to the delivery of optimum care. As a result, unfortunately, there were many moves for some individual patients as the organisation coped with the changing numbers and acuity of patients.”

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