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Mental health hospital must improve staffing levels, says CQC

Care Quality Commission inspection finds 46 red flags at The Harbour hospital in Preston 

Care Quality Commission inspection finds 46 red flag events affecting patient care and staff morale at hospital in Preston

A mental health hospital that recorded 46 red flag events in just one month has been told it must improve staffing levels.

An inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found staffing pressures at The Harbour in Preston – run by Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust – were affecting patient care and staff morale.

Inspectors visited the 154-bed hospital in April 2021 in response to concerns about the safety and quality of services, focusing on wards for older adults and acute and psychiatric intensive care services for those of working age.

Care Quality Commission inspection finds 46 red flag events affecting patient care and staff morale at hospital in Preston

The Harbour hospital in Preston
The Harbour in Preston Picture: Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust

A mental health hospital that recorded 46 red flag events in just one month has been told it must improve staffing levels.

An inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found staffing pressures at The Harbour in Preston – run by Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust – were affecting patient care and staff morale.

Inspectors visited the 154-bed hospital in April 2021 in response to concerns about the safety and quality of services, focusing on wards for older adults and acute and psychiatric intensive care services for those of working age.

Just one registered nurse on duty on a ward

Two CQC reports show the hospital did not always have enough nursing staff to meet patients’ needs, and shortages meant supervision and team meetings did not happen as often as planned.

CQC head of hospital inspection for mental health Brian Cranna said: ‘Patients told us that they did feel safe on the wards however, due to the staffing levels, there were sometimes delays in staff responding to their requests for support or personal care.’

One report shows that in January, The Harbour recorded 46 red flag events where there was just one registered nurse on duty on a ward.

Under National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on safe staffing red flag events are designed to prompt immediate action by ward managers and include staffing levels dropping below two registered nurses on duty on a ward at any time.

Trust is continuing to prioritise staff well-being and support

Inspectors found staff at The Harbour had responded well to the unexpected staffing shortages, mainly caused by nurses being off sick. ‘The service used additional and supernumerary staff to provide cover and ensure that there were a minimum of three registered nurses between two wards,’ said the report.

However, they also found staff did not always feel safe – especially when redeployed to wards they did not know – or respected, supported and valued. ‘Morale among staff was generally low. This was attributed to staffing levels and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ said the report.

A Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said the pandemic had exacerbated nurse staffing issues, but said new recruitment and retention initiatives, such as increasing band 6 roles, would improve this.

The spokesperson added that the trust was continuing to prioritise staff well-being and support, including encouraging annual leave and breaks. ‘There is no doubt that the pandemic has had an impact on staff morale, and increased sickness has also compounded staffing pressures. This has been the case for many trusts nationally.’


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