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COVID-19: body of dead patient remained on ward for five hours due to short-staffing

CQC inspectors reveal what care looks like in a pandemic, with not enough nurses to go round
Good Hope Hospital

University Hospitals Birmingham trust praises extraordinary efforts of nursing staff in the face of staffing problems, after almost a year of coronavirus challenges

Wards at one of Englands largest hospital trusts had one nurse caring for as many as 17 patients during official inspections in the pandemic.

In some cases, dead bodies were left in situ for prolonged periods, an issue that caused staff distress, inspectors said.

Short-staffing issues observed in unannounced inspections

The Care Quality Commission (QCQ) conducted two unannounced inspections at the Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield, on 2 and 9 December 2020. The hospital is run by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB).

University Hospitals Birmingham trust praises ‘extraordinary’ efforts of nursing staff in the face of staffing problems, after almost a year of coronavirus challenges

Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield. Picture: Chris Allen

Wards at one of England’s largest hospital trusts had one nurse caring for as many as 17 patients during official inspections in the pandemic.

In some cases, dead bodies were left in situ for prolonged periods, an issue that caused staff distress, inspectors said.

Short-staffing issues observed in unannounced inspections

The Care Quality Commission (QCQ) conducted two unannounced inspections at the Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield, on 2 and 9 December 2020. The hospital is run by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB).

Inspectors found some wards may have had shifts with just one nurse and one nursing associate.

Staff across several wards told inspectors they often had to stay long after their 12-hour shifts, while short-staffing meant nursing students on clinical placement did not always get the support they needed.

Having the appropriate number of nurses was described as a luxury by staff, the inspectors said, even when the number of healthcare assistants on duty fell short.

Dead bodies on wards, last offices not performed

The inspectors observed that bodies of deceased patients were not removed from wards in a timely manner, citing the example of the body of one person remaining on a ward for five hours following death.

‘On ward eight, a patient had passed away at 6.45am, at 11.35am the patient still not had last offices completed or been transported from the ward due to low staffing levels.

Preventable adverse events – death of patient following a fall

‘This was reported by several staff members and it caused them distress,’ the inspectors noted.

The report revealed how another patient had died after a fall and other examples of potentially avoidable falls attributed to inadequate staffing.

Staffing problems were also noted at Heartlands Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospitals in Birmingham, both also run by UHB, and the report concluded that all three hospitals required improvement.

Trust pays tribute to staff’s ‘extraordinary’ efforts

CQC has made recommendations for the trust, including ensuring that nurse staffing is adequate to keep patients safe.

A trust spokesperson said: ‘There are some issues raised in the reports, all of which we were aware of prior to the inspection, which we recognise as requiring further work and this is ongoing.’

The trust said at the time of the inspections staff were ten months into the pandemic, with more than 450 inpatients with COVID-19 on the days of the inspections.

The spokesperson said staff’s efforts to provide care to 11,000 inpatients with COVID-19 so far in the pandemic had been ‘extraordinary’.


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