INSUFFICIENT staffing levels in the medical unit at Royal Lancaster Infirmary could have put patients at risk, the Care Quality Commission has concluded.

The national health watchdog, which carried out an unannounced inspection at the hospital in October, said ward 39 was found to be understaffed and this could have contributed to high numbers of medication errors and patient falls.

The CQC has now issued a formal warning to the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust (UHMBT), saying it will carry out further unnannounced inspections ‘to ensure the necessary improvements have been made’.

However, the trust said yesterday that ‘urgent action’ had already been taken to address the staff shortages.

The visiting inspection team included four CQC inspectors, an obstetrician and a specialist in midwifery.

Their report says:

  • Staff told inspectors that manning shortages were affecting their ability to provide adequate care that fully met patients’ individual needs;
  • Inspectors found insufficient staffing may have contributed to high numbers of medication errors and patient falls; and
  • Several patients raised concerns with inspectors that they had to wait for long periods of time before they received assistance or support from staff on the ward.

It was better news at the trust’s once troubled maternity unit in Furness General Hospital, where the CQC said improvements had been made to address previously identified shortfalls in relation to infection control.

Indeed, maternity services at the trust were given a general thumbs-up.

“Patients experienced care that met their needs, were treated with respect and dignity, and there were sufficient numbers of staff on duty,” the CQC said.

Malcolm Bower-Brown, CQC’s northern regional director, said: “We are pleased to report the improvement in maternity services we found on our inspection.

“However, the staffing concerns identified on ward 39 at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary were unacceptable, and we warned the trust that it must take further action to ensure safe and effective care is provided to every patient.

“We continue to monitor the situation carefully, liaising closely with NHS England, Monitor and local commissioners, to ensure that the required improvements are implemented.

“Our inspectors will return unannounced to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary to ensure that the required improvements have been implemented and are being sustained.”

Sue Smith, UHMBT’s executive chief nurse, said: “The report shows that maternity services at both Royal Lancaster Infirmary and at Furness General Hospital are meeting the essential standards of quality and safety inspected.

“The inspectors who carried out the unannounced inspection also looked at cleanliness and hygiene at Furness General Hospital following a previous inspection earlier last year.

“The trust was found to have made the improvements required to meet the essential standards.”