St Albans City Hospital staff going extra mile after poor CQC rating

Dr Michael van der Watt, Medical Director of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust

Dr Michael van der Watt, Medical Director of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust - Credit: Photo supplied

The slating of St Albans City Hospital as ‘inadequate’ has resulted in consultants and other medical staff working through weekends in a bid to improve services – and the harsh rating.

West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs hospitals in St Albans, Watford and Hemel Hempstead, was placed into special measures by the NHS Trust Development Authority, following a recommendation by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

England’s chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Mike Richards, said in a report in September that facilities in some areas across the trust were in a poor state of repair and presented a potential risk to staff and visitors.

While the majority of staff were found to be “caring, compassionate and kind”, Prof Richards warned that safety was not a sufficient priority, and that during the regulator’s inspection at St Albans City, the trust “took the decision to close one operating theatre due to issues relating to ventilation, and the risk that presented”.

An area of concern for the CQC was in relation to one of the three core services – surgery – which was inspected and rated as inadequate.

It added: “Only one service was rated as good: the Minor Injuries Unit.”

The CQC told the trust it should ensure all surgical areas were fit for purpose, and “present no patient or staff safety risks”.

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It also demanded that a clinical review be undertaken of all patients who might have had surgery in Theatre 4 at St Albans.

Two months after receiving the report, the trust’s medical director Dr Michael van der Watt told the Herts Advertiser that staff have put in additional hours to ensure the hospital met the 18 week refer-to-treatment national target.

Praising the efforts of medical and other staff at St Albans City for doing a “huge amount of additional work”, including at weekends, Dr van der Watt said they had “caught up” with waiting lists.

A huge amount of non-emergency surgery is undertaken at the local hospital.

He admitted the trust “had not anticipated being branded as inadequate, but immediately after the inspection, we took measures to deal with the issues raised.

“We have identified over 300 actions that we needed to do, and we have completed over 200 already, so really good progress has been made.”

In relation to questions about problems at one of the theatres, Dr van der Watt said the ventilation was “not as good as it should be” so it was closed.

A temporary mobile theatre has been used in its stead, and there are hopes that, following remedial work, the closed theatre will be reopened in January.

Concerns about the high use of agency staff are also being addressed, with trust representatives currently on a major recruitment – and employee retention – drive.

In the trust’s most recent published figures, August this year, 97 per cent of patients said they would recommend its health services to friends and family, compared to the national average of 88 per cent.