Health watchdog uncovers safety threats and overstretched staff teams in local hospitals

SOME of the most vulnerable people in the local health district are being forced to live in unsafe, understaffed wards, a health watchdog has found.

Overstretched and undertrained staff and patients concerned about their personal safety were all identified by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) as issues to be addressed by the Southern Health Board Trust, which looks after patients from the Dungannon District.

One particularly distressing failing in basic care at the Mourne Ward, Longstone Unit, Armagh, involved a patient being attacked by another patient.

“Several Mourne patients had been distressed by the patient’s behaviour and one had been physically assaulted”, said the report.

“One patient with severe autism was reported to have regressed and retreated into their room since the patient’s arrival on the ward.”

The inspections took place in December and centred on units treating people with mental health problems and learning disabilities.

In one local ward, the inspectors discovered nursing staff having to handle ten bags of laundry a day due to recent cuts in laundry staff, as well as time diverted from patient care because of increased clerical work also as a result of job cuts.

Staff claimed that they worked overtime to cover the shortfall, often having to take mentorship documentation home to complete due to the pressure of work.

Inspectors were critical of the loss of clerical and cleaning staff on one ward, and noted the time deducted from patient care as a result.

“All staff stated that more staff were required on the ward due to the high dependency levels of the patients, and to facilitate one-to-one therapeutic care”, said the report.

“They indicated that staffing numbers decrease in the evening, leaving only one trained staff on the ward. They also advised that the high numbers of students on the ward had a negative impact on stress for their mentors.”

In another local ward, the inspectors uncovered significant gaps in staff training including the management of aggression and violence.

They also found a lack of openness and transparency with patients’ relatives.

Inspectors noted that the ward staffing quota was reduced by two band 5 nurses. It appeared that this had been the case for some time. The ward was also using bank staff for two nurses who were off on long-term sick leave.

Inspectors concluded that working two staff down had taken its toll on the staff currently working on this ward.

Inspectors also noted that on one of the wards many of the patients’ chairs were in a bad state of repair, ripped and torn. These would not meet infection control requirements.

Further evidence of cost-cutting was uncovered by the inspectors who reported that patients in the Mourne Ward of the Longstone Unit were charged for bedcovers and curtains in shared bedrooms.

“It was unclear if patients or relatives consented to these purchases. Staff were unable to say how much these cost for each individual”, said the report.