Monday 5 October 2020 / 10:30 PM Health / Jonathan Ashworth

Urgent action needed as Labour analysis reveals safety risks in NHS

The Labour Party is calling for urgent action to ensure the NHS is vitally equipped for the winter to deal with a second wave of Covid-19, as new analysis reveals hundreds of extreme risks to patient and staff safety currently blighting hospitals across England.

The detrimental long-term impact of Tory underfunding on the National Health Service in the run up to the Covid-19 pandemic has been exposed in official NHS Trust documents.

Analysis of 114 NHS Trust risk registers shows Trusts are faced with hundreds of risks to patient safety classed as “significant” or “extreme”, with the majority linked to a lack of funding, staffing shortages or major problems with buildings and failing equipment.

Of the 114 NHS Trust risk registers analysed:

  • Almost half of Trusts reported risks described as “significant” or “extreme”
  • 83 percent (95 Trusts) reported a workforce risk, including not having enough staff to manage cancer care
  • 66 percent (75 Trusts) reported a financial risk, including one Trust warning it did not have enough money to see it through the financial year
  • 69 percent (77 Trusts) reported a capital risk relating to estates, facilities equipment or IT, including risks around not meeting regulatory requirements for ventilation
  • 84 percent (96 Trusts) reported a risk to patient care or patient safety, including risks around infection control
  • 82 percent (94 Trusts) reported a risk directly related to Covid-19

All of the risk registers were compiled after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The documents show that the NHS entered the pandemic with huge holes in staffing, funding and with crumbling buildings and failing equipment. The analysis comes as the NHS enters a second wave of Covid-19 and the traditionally busy winter period.

The majority of risks in these registers will have been assessed by NHS Trusts before it became apparent that the Government had completely failed to prepare and support the NHS to address these risks this winter by getting Test and Trace working effectively.

Risks linked to Covid-19 include:

  • Northampton General Hospital stated that there is a: “Risk of the Trust being unable to deliver a recovery plan post covid-19 with consequential impact on patient and staff safety, patient experience and staff wellbeing.”

Risks linked to capital and infrastructure include:

  • The Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Foundation Trust stated that: “There is a direct risk to life and safety of patients, visitors and staff due to the potential of catastrophic failure of the roof structure due to structural deficiencies.”
  • Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust stated: “Due to operational service changes as a result of Covid-19, there is a risk that the Trust may fail to comply with Health and Safety requirements in Asbestos testing, Fire, Pressure Vessels, Water, Environment and Building condition resulting in poor patient/staff safety or enforcement action against the Trust for non-compliance.”
  • Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust stated that: “There is a risk that we are not fully compliant with revised regulatory requirements for ventilation within theatres leading to an increased risk of infection.”
  • The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch NHS foundation Trust stated that: There is an increased risk of infection due to the inability to regulate the main theatres temperature and humidity.”

Risks linked to NHS staffing include:

  • Worcestershire NHS and Care Trust stated that: “There is a risk that patient’s neuropsychological needs will not be met due to lack of specialist clinical staff to cover the service.”
  • University Hospitals of Derby and Burton stated that that is: “A risk of patient safety and service delivery; especially with respect to our Lung, Urology, Upper GI and Testicular cancer pathway – caused by not having currently a full complement of Clinical Oncologists.”
  • The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch NHS foundation Trust stated that there is a “Risk of patient harm from inappropriate chemotherapy dosing due to insufficient skilled staff in pharmacy cancer services team.”

Risks linked to funding include:

  • London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust stated that: “Due to the current financial position of the Trust there is a risk that cost saving decision making to achieve the financial recovery plan could negatively impact on patient experience and safety.”
  • Liverpool Women’s NHS foundation Trust stated that: “The Trust is not financially sustainable beyond the current financial year.”
  • University College London Hospitals NHS foundation Trust stated that: “UCLH is allocated a level of income that is insufficient to cover the costs of the Trust’s activity or else is set efficiency targets that it is unable to achieve, with a consequent risk to financial sustainability and an impact on staff and patient experience/waiting times.”

Risks linked to patient safety include:

  • South Tees Hospital NHS Trusts stated that: “Due to changes in maternity services there is a risk of inability to provide continuous, safe maternity and neonatal care posing a risk to the mortality and morbidity of women and babies.”
  • Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust stated that: “There is a risk that patients may deteriorate and or receive suboptimal treatment resulting from a growing number of medicinal products, sourced on contracts, showing as out of stock with suppliers.”
  • Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust stated that: “Effective management systems are not in place or sufficient to protect patients from the risk of hospital acquired C difficile and bloodstream infections caused by multi-resistant organisms. Caused by insufficient compliance with infection prevention procedures, including hand hygiene decontamination, environmental cleaning and insufficient training.”
  • York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust stated: “There is a potential risk to patient safety caused by a current lack of decent facilities at Scarborough Hospital to enable refurbishment or deep cleaning of ward environments.”

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, said:

“In a normal winter, these risks would be worrying. In the coming winter, with the incompetent handling of the test and trace system leaving the NHS wide open and poorly supported, they take on a whole new meaning.

“We urgently need a commitment from Ministers to fix the problems with test and trace and a timetable by which these issues will finally be sorted. On top of this it is vital that Ministers confirm that the NHS will get the additional support it needs to address these risks.

“Frontline staff and patients cannot be made to carry the can for Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock’s incompetence.”