The Dangers of NHS Low Staffing Levels

The Dangers of NHS Low Staffing Levels
LLB (Hons) Nimish Patel
Legally reviewed by: LLB (Hons) Nimish Patel Updated: In: Medical Negligence

Investigations by Care & Quality Commission Reveals

The University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) is one of the largest trusts. UHB is responsible for Queen Elizabeth, Good Hope and Solihull hospitals. In recent months, the trust has come under heavy criticism for bullying, a toxic environment and dangerously low staffing levels.

This comes after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) carried out unannounced inspections at Good Hope in Sutton Coldfield in addition to a report published by Prof Mike Bewick in March. Heartlands Hospital, part of UHB was also inspected amid concerns about their children’s services.

After visiting, the CQC issues UHB a warning notice. This means that UHB has till the 15th March to make “significant improvements” that have been identified.

Following the CQCs warning, BBC West Midlands and Newsnight led a joint investigation into UHB, revealing that a climate of fear at the trust was putting patients at risk.

Following the results of the joint investigation, Healthwatch Birmingham and Healthwatch Solihull say they are concerned with the findings.

UHB’s Chief Executive, Jonathan Brotherton adds: “The trust is working through the report’s recommendations.”

Poorly Managed Staffing Levels Causing a Danger to Patients

Despite the hospital’s ‘Poor’ rating, inspectors that visited in December said that the staff were working extremely hard under pressure. They highlighted that the staff worked with compassion and kindness towards their patients.

Charlotte Rudge, the CQC’s deputy director of operations in the Midlands, adds: “We weren’t assured leaders were appropriately managing priorities and issues or reducing risks to keep people safe in medical care at Good Hope Hospital, particularly around staffing levels, which must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

“Across all the services we visited, there wasn’t enough nursing staff to keep people safe and to provide the right care and treatment,” she adds.

Low Morale and a High Staff Turnover

Investigations revealed that morale amongst staff was noticeably low across the UBT hospitals as the service struggled to meet demands.

BBC Midlands health correspondent Michele Paduano said the hospital has a high turnover of staff. This is particularly prominent in the nursing department, with turnover reaching more than 13.5% each year with some areas hitting 20%.

As a result of staffing issues, high-pressure wards are seeing increasing numbers of safety issues. As more staff sustain injuries, more staff leave, creating a vicious circle.

In addition, staffing and morale issues were also reported in Heartlands Hospital in Bordesley Green. Inspectors found there was not enough suitable equipment to enable staff to safely care for patients. Furthermore, medicines were not always managed well.

The shortages were also found to be prominent in children’s wards. Staffing levels were found to be regularly below planned levels, resulting in significant stress for some staff.

Patients at Risk as Bullying Culture Prevents Doctors from Speaking Up

Both hospitals, as well as the trust, are currently rated as ‘Requiring Improvement’ by the CQC. As the inspections were targeted, the overall rating, which was last reviewed in October 2021 has not changed. The hospital has been facing allegations of bullying and poor governance for months.

The investigation by Newsnight and BBC West Midlands uncovered allegations of a toxic, bullying culture. The toxic culture was preventing doctors from speaking up. By not bringing forward dangers in the NHS, the doctors were inadvertently putting patients at risk.

The Knock-on Impact of Poor Staffing Levels in the NHS

These issues in Birmingham reflect a UK-wide issue. Similar stories from other hospital trusts have been gracing the news in the last few years. Staffing issues are resulting in NHS backlogs. Consequently, hospital staff are increasingly overstretched resulting in medical errors.

It’s not unusual to experience NHS delays or know someone who has had to wait an abnormal amount of time. Delays are affecting all areas of the NHS, such as:

The Rise in Medical Negligence Claims

Hundreds Left with Lost or Damaged Eyesight

Low staffing levels, poor management and delays have caused a rise in claims made especially regarding negligence in eye hospitals. 551 reports filed for patients who lost their site since 2019 due to NHS backlog. Of these reports, 219 of these reports were for “moderate or severe harm”.

Despite the high figure FOI request by the Association of Optometrists believes hundreds more negligence cases have been unreported.

Due to running at full capacity, eye hospitals are struggling to offer services that can treat common age-related eye conditions.

Chief executive, Adam Sampson has urged ministers to introduce a national eye health strategy by enabling high street and community optometrists to ease some of the burden on hospitals.

As it stands, 628,502 people are waiting for ophthalmology appointments. This is the second largest backlog, equating to one in every eleven patients on an NHS waiting list. Additionally, 27,260 have been waiting for more than a year.

In a survey of UK optometrists, 72% say they have seen a patient in the last six months who had experienced a delay in treatment of 12 months or more. Nearly half of optometrists (43%) have concerns about patients who could lose sight unnecessarily.

AWH’s Head of Medical Negligence, Nimish Patel, recently won their client £80,000 of compensation for treatment delays after eye surgery complications.

Comments Addressing Low Staffing Levels Throughout UHB Trust

The trust is coming at or near the bottom of a league table of trusts across a range of measures.

“This latest CQC inspection makes it clear that patients now require solid proof of action rather than just reassurance about safety if confidence in UHB is to be restored,” said the group’s chair, Richard Burden.

Mr Brotherton states the CQC report has “highlighted issues that we are working on to improve the care we provide for our patients”.

“Our staffing levels, like much of the NHS, are challenged and we are continually working to address this,” he adds.

“We have a strong programme of work to support values-led recruitment, with a clear commitment to bring more brilliant people into our organisation, to continue to provide excellent care.”

“Whilst we accept that we do not always get things right, we are pleased that good leadership in many areas and a strong commitment to safety were acknowledged in the CQC’s report.”

AWH Solicitors Covering Patient Safety in the NHS

AWH Solicitors has been writing articles covering the topic of patient safety in the NHS and medical negligence claims. Below you can read further about other relevant topics:

 Making an NHS Negligence Claim

With the latest statistic of 28% of adults experiencing or knowing a family member who has experienced poor care from the NHS, it’s important to raise awareness that you or a loved one may be able to receive compensation for the suffering.

If you have suffered because of medical negligence, then our solicitors can help you. Our specialist medical negligence solicitors will help you go through your medical negligence claim with care and expertise, helping you receive the compensation you deserve.

During a consultation, we will go through the prospects of your claim with you first. If we believe it to be in your best interest to pursue a negligence claim then we will advise you so, however, you are under no obligation to proceed. If you do wish to proceed, we will handle your claim on a no-win, no-fee basis, so you do not have to worry about any legal costs.

Common claims our no-win, no-fee medical negligence solicitors have handled include:

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