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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
'Unsafe' hospitals blasted by inspectors
Walsgrave sign
Walsgrave Hospital is one of those criticised
Three Warwickshire hospitals could be risking the lives of patients, says a scathing watchdog report.

Cramped conditions in wards and accident and emergency units placed miles from intensive care units "compromised patient safety", said the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI).

Their routine inspection of University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust also revealed rows between senior doctors and managers.

Doctors, said CHI, felt afraid of being victimised if they raised concerns about the standard of care at the hospitals.

The report covers the Walsgrave Hospital, the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital and the hospital of St Cross in nearby Rugby.

A 290m "super-hospital" is due to open in 2006, but CHI said that not enough was being done to make sure the existing hospitals were safe enough in the run-up to this.

Death rates at the hospitals are higher than the national average.

Unsafe setup

The commission described as "unacceptable" the current division of emergency facilities between the three hospitals.

Two of these had accident and emergency departments - but the emergency admissions unit, to which many seriously ill patients would naturally progress, was in the third.

This meant a potentially risky trip by ambulance for some of the most vulnerable patients.

"This must be addressed immediately," said the report.

This report highlights very serious issues at Coventry and Warwickshire trust which need urgent attention

Dr Peter Homa, CHI
Particularly criticised was the practice of putting five beds in bays designed only for four.

This meant that some patients not only missed out on privacy, but could be harder to treat in an emergency situation.

Peter Homa, CHI's chief executive, said: "This report highlights very serious issues at Coventry and Warwickshire trust which need urgent attention if local people are to have confidence in their health service.

"The trust is currently forming an action plan in response to our report and this must demonstrate clearly what steps will be taken to improve patient care."

The trust management were described as "aggressive", and reluctant to consult with others.

The report added: "Relationships between some senior medical consultants and trust managers are very poor."

Some senior staff, it said, felt too "intimidated" to raise concerns.

The trust was recently forced to reinstate a consultant suspended after raising concerns about a colleague.

CHI is an independent health inspectorate which is systematically looking at all the hospital trusts in the NHS.

This is one of the first occasions on which a routine inspection has uncovered such a depth of problems.

The inspection of the Coventry hospitals revealed unhygienic conditions, with some areas described as "dirty and unmodernised".

Patient safety is our major concern

David Loughton, trust chief executive
The emergency admissions unit was said to be "extremely cramped", with hospital bosses urged to urgently review it.

Trust chief executive, David Loughton, said that "immediate steps" were being taken following the report.

Safety changes

He said: "Patient safety is our major concern. We are reviewing protocols on patient transfers and the practice of putting five beds in bays designed for four stopped in August."

He said that he accepted that managers had focused on creating the new hospital rather than the existing sites.

"This has been achieved following a fierce debate about the site but the people of Coventry will have a brand new 290m hospital by 2006."

The trust is also building a 13-bed extension to the Emergency Admissions Unit.

Its medical director, Dr Jim Macartney, said that death rates were likely to be higher within the hospitals because the area had no hospice.

The BBC's Karen Allen reports
"Over-crowding was among the dangerous practices"
See also:

28 Oct 99 | Health
CHI: The basics
06 Jul 01 | Health
Whistle-blower surgeon reinstated
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