HEALTH service watchdogs have raised a number of concerns over the standards of care provided at a specialist North East hospital for people with mental health problems.
Inspectors at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have demanded improvements in several aspects of the service at St George’s Park Hospital in Morpeth, Northumberland.
They have found failings in how the hospital cares for patients safely and protects them from harm, and in standards of staffing and management at the facility.
In particular, they have highlighted problems with the safe handling and management of medicines, concerns over potentially unsafe or unsuitable premises, a shortage of staff and a failure to keep accurate and appropriate patient records.
However, the CQC says the hospital is meeting national standards on providing the care, treatment and support that meets patients’ needs, treating them with respect and involving them in their care.
The flagship hospital, which is run by the Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and opened in 2006, provides a range of mental health services, including acute adult admission and treatment, a mother and baby unit and rehabilitation and behavioural development.
Its specialities include treating dementia and caring for people with mental health conditions or whose rights are restricted under the Mental Health Act.
The CQC report, which follows a visit to St George’s Park in November, says inspectors found that patients’ views and experiences were taken into account in the way their care services are provided and delivered. Also, patients’ needs were assessed and care and treatment was planned and delivered in line with their individual care plan.
However, the inspection found that patients were not fully protected against the risks associated with medicines, and that the hospital didn’t have appropriate arrangements to manage medicines.
Concerns included a lack of arrangements to ensure medicines were removed from general use when they had reached their expiry date. Staff were unable to tell inspectors who had responsibility for checking expiry dates and ensure medicines were still safe to dispense.
In addition, a 2011 audit of drug storage and custody of keys had not been repeated the following year.
The report says: “We found that patients who used the service were not protected against the risks of unsafe or unsuitable premises. We found, and patients and staff told us, that there were not enough qualified, skilled and experienced staff to meet patients’ needs.
“We found that patients were not protected from the risks of unsafe or inappropriate care and treatment, because accurate and appropriate records were not maintained.”
Concerns about premises included a finding that appropriate measures were not in place to ensure security on the locked Embleton Ward.
One of two enclosed garden areas was not being used because the design of the perimeter fence allowed patients to climb over it or gain access on to the roof. Last night the trust said it always welcome the CQC’s inspection reports, which help it to assure compliance with essential standards of care.
It said since April 2012 the CQC has inspected 15 of its sites, and reviewed essential standards amounting to 77 separate outcome reviews.
A spokesman said: “The results, which are published on the CQC website, show the trust is compliant with essential standards across all sites, with the exception of St George’s Park.
“Following the recent inspection of two of our units and awards at St George’s Park, the CQC has reported that we need to do more to meet essential standards on this site.
“The trust responded positively to the concerns raised and improvements were made immediately. We have highlighted to the CQC, within an action plan, the further enhancements we plan to make, including the recruitment of additional nursing support across all wards.
“The quality and safety of care we provide to our patients is always our primary concern, and we act immediately if, and when, any of our services are deemed to fall short.”