Major Incident Declared at Colchester Hospital in Essex

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Patients have been told to stay away from the A&E Department at Colchester General Hospital, part of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, unless they have a serious or life-threatening condition.

A&E Department EmergencyA ‘major incident’ was declared after an unannounced CQC inspection of Colchester hospital revealed “safeguarding concerns”. The hospital was placed under special measures in November last year, followed by a change in management. Staff had previously raised concerns about how many patients they were forced to discharge as a result of serious understaffing, but claimed that they felt ignored. The CQC found that some patients had been sedated but there was no evidence that they had consented. Inspectors also found that there was a failure to follow ‘do not resuscitate’ notices. The CQC was critical of the stewardship of the hospital and recommended a serious change at the top.

Sir Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, told the BBC: “We’ve had a year, 18 months of problems at Colchester General Hospital, the former chief executive, chairman and numerous members of the board have all gone, there’s a new team in there and I’m hoping that they will turn it around…There’s no criticism here…of the front-line medical staff and support staff, the criticism I have is the management historically and I’m just hoping the new management team are going to sort it out, but clearly this is very worrying,” This raises an interesting question as to whether hospital managers are, or should be, more responsible for mistakes in hospitals than doctors.

Could the crisis, caused by underfunding National Health Services at Colchester, be part of a much broader problem affecting other hospitals in England and Wales?

A leading Accident and Emergency specialist argues that the challenges faced at Colchester are part of a much wider problem. Serious concerns have been raised that a lack of National Health Service funding generally could cause similar problems in other hospitals across the country. Dr Clifford Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine has warned the Government that it will be faced with crisis-hit hospitals across the country unless it urgently increases spending on beds and staff. “I can guarantee that if [the Government] doesn’t spend money on staff and beds, then we’ll see more Colchesters up and down the country…”

Labour’s Jamie Reed, a shadow Health minister, called on the Government to make a statement on whether Colchester was now safe for patients. He said: "Ministers have ignored repeated warnings about the chaos in A&E across England, and now whole hospitals are being overwhelmed by the pressure".

What does this mean for patients?

The result of the lack of National Health Service funding is unnecessary patient suffering from 2 possible sources:
  • First - due to not being seen, or
  • Second - due to being seen and the increased likelihood of the diagnosis not being made correctly.
Peter Walsh, chief executive of Action Against Medical Accidents, said: “…We have seen around the country that corners can be cut when hospitals are under pressure”.

Of course, it is not just hospitals that are under pressure, the community services are also stretched because of underfunding. If Colchester Hospital is going to “…treat as a priority the discharge of patients…” then there needs to be proper funding of National Health Services in the community. Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "Discharging patients to an unsafe environment isn’t the way to address the overflow if hospitals are full".

If patients are discharged home but they do not have access to good quality care and support from services such as Rapid Response Teams, District Nurses, Carers, Occupational Therapists etc. they will suffer. Sadly, when a crisis arises like the present one at Colchester the ultimate victims are the patients that do not receive timely treatment or appropriate treatment. The rights of those patients need to be protected which is where specialist clinical negligence solicitors play a vital role.


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