Addenbrooke's special measures - are patients at risk?

Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridgeshire is the latest hospital to be placed on special measures since the Mid Staffs scandal in 2013. This brings the total number of hospitals to be placed on special measures up to 24.

Inadequate service levels

The NHS Regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) deemed the overall services of the hospital to be "inadequate". One in seven of England's 160 acute trusts are now in need of close supervision and external support.

The main problems the CQC identified with Addenbrooke's Hospital were threats to safety - including nitrous oxide leaking in a maternity unit, a shortage of staff - particularly across critical care and maternity services, and recruitment and retention problems.

NHS staff shortages leading to treatment delays

Issues with staff shortage and retention meant that staff had been switched to areas they were not trained in, routine operations had been cancelled, and outpatient appointments were facing delays up to 51 weeks. The number of people waiting for treatment at NHS hospitals has increased by close to 1 million in the last five years - up from 2.57million in 2010 to 3.5million in 2015.

The staff shortage had resulted in Addenbrooke's hospital relying heavily on expensive agency and bank staff to make up the numbers, which meant that it was overspending by £1.2million per week. It was estimated that this would result in an overspend of £64million by the end of the year.

While the report highlighted that the staff were hard working, caring and passionate throughout the trust, Addenbrooke's was nonetheless one of the worst performing hospitals in England last winter. It was one of approximately 20 trusts to declare a major incident, and it struggled to cope due to high levels of demand. It is anticipated that this winter will stretch the hospital still further, putting patients at increased risk.

Widespread problems

The problems found at Addenbrooke's Hospital are worryingly common across the NHS. Low staffing is a major issue highlighted in many CQC reports, and this can directly affect patients. Shortages in Paramedics, A&E doctors, GPs, nurses, midwives and radiologists are widespread, and hospitals are increasingly reliant on staff from around the world to make up numbers.

Cuts to nurse training means that more are choosing to work on a freelance basis, costing the NHS £3.3billion per year to hire. The news that 1600 doctors applied to work overseas in just three days earlier this week due to a new contract on junior doctors is a further issue for the NHS to cope with, as short staffing will no doubt become endemic - putting more and more patients at risk.