NHS safety concerns as report highlights risks to patients

Newly published findings from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) highlight significant safety failings across NHS and care services in the UK, with hospitals branded the greatest concern.

Of over 5,000 organisations inspected, 74 per cent of hospitals, 43 per cent of social care services and 31 per cent of GP surgeries were assessed as having safety problems.

Patients are experiencing unacceptable and varied levels of care that are putting their health and safety at risk. In some cases, lower standards of care have lead to misdiagnosis, hospital-acquired infection and other examples of potential clinical negligence.

Background

Contained in the CQC's annual state of care report, the findings are effectively a mid-term update of a new, tougher, 24-month Ofsted style inspection regime which compares the majority of the health service. The regime covers:

  • Hospitals
  • Care homes, nursing homes and home care services
  • GP services in and out-of-hours

During the inspections, experts look at a range of issues, from general safety to quality of management and attitudes of staff towards patients. Each organisation is then rated. The overall rankings are outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate.

Key findings on safety

Safety was a fundamental concern identified in the report, and one of the key areas on which each service was ranked. During the CQC inspections, practices and procedures in each organisation were assessed and safety levels rated accordingly into one of four categories:

  • Unsafe
  • Not safe enough
  • Good on safety
  • Outstanding on safety

As a result of this, 13 per cent of hospitals, 10 per cent of social care services and 6 per cent of GP surgeries were judged ?unsafe'. In addition, 61 per cent of hospitals, 33 per cent of social care services and 25 per cent of GP surgeries were judged ?not safe enough'.

One of the major issues identified as affecting safety levels was lack of staff, both in terms of skills and numbers. In addition, other areas highlighted included poor management of medicines and failure to recognise and learn from mistakes.

The complex organisational structure of hospitals was identified as putting them at higher risk of poor safety practices. Examples of hospital safety issues raised in the report include:

  • Incomplete safety checks and audits
  • Disregard for infection control practices
  • Poor management of patients at risk of health complications
  • Poor A&E triage procedures, with receptionists carrying out assessments and patients being left on trolleys overnight

Driving better safety standards

Where services were identified as being inadequate or unsafe, the CQC are increasingly taking enforcement action to protect people.

As a result of these new inspections, the CQC emphasise that overall standards are improving. Health professionals were seen to be keen to implement change once safety issues were identified.

To improve safety standards going forward, the CQC highlighted smart spending and good leadership as the two key drivers.