Published: 06:00, 07 October 2020
Additional reporting by Gerry Warren
Staff at a hospital trust which recorded the most coronavirus deaths in the country were seen by inspectors not using hand sanitiser or changing their PPE.
Now the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has demanded East Kent Hospitals Trust "must improve" care at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford in a damning report - with one grieving widow saying she's not surprised by their findings.
Thelma Lukehurst's 91-year-old husband Dick died in the William Harvey Hospital on July 20 after being admitted with a broken leg but later suffering from Covid-19.
Grieving Mrs Lukehurst, from Stodmarsh, says she is not surprised the hospital failed an inspection just a month later.
"Dick was tested negative when he went into hospital," she said.
"But then they put him on a recovery ward with a Covid patient, which can't have been right.
"Then four days later he tested positive and I when I spoke to a doctor, he admitted Dick had probably caught Covid in the hospital.
Thelma talks to KMTV previously
"I'm really not surprised the hospital has been found wanting because when I was allowed a couple of visits, I saw staff not wearing masks on the ward or not wearing them properly and people just breezing into the hospital without any proper screening.
"I didn't want to complain because at time because everyone was clapping for the NHS and it didn't seem right.
"But I was very worried about what was going on and now my fears have been proved right.
"The hospital later said there was no evidence my husband caught Covid on the ward and I have never had an apology, but I am convinced he did.
"Sadly, it's too late now. I admit Dick was not a well man but we could and should have had a bit more time together."
East Kent Hospitals trust, which runs the William Harvey alongside hospitals in Margate , Canterbury , Dover and Folkestone , was told by the CQC there were a large number of issues around infection control and hygiene in the hospital.
The visit on August 11 followed reports that in-hospital transmission had likely been a factor in the trust recording the highest Covid-19 death toll in England throughout June and July.
Across those two months, 141 people died with coronavirus - 59 more than any other trust.
Furthermore, figures in July showed that 58% of Covid-19 patients in east Kent's hospitals "probably" caught the virus after they had been admitted, compared to the national average of 22% over the same period.
Inspectors found issues in a number of different wards, including those affected by the virus.
This included staff wearing face masks incorrectly on the Covid-19 ward, while a member of the nursing team was also seen wearing theirs incorrectly in a ward where there had been an outbreak of the virus.
Staff also did not always wear PPE correctly in the emergency department, sometimes not changing it when entering and leaving patient bays.
Perhaps most alarmingly, however, inspectors found staff didn't always use hand sanitizer while entering and leaving wards.
At least seven members of staff were seen entering and leaving the ward caring for people who were suspected of having coronavirus without adhering to hand hygiene practices.
There was also an issue with access to hand gel and washing facilities facilities in the emergency department, with hand sanitiser dispensers at both entrances to the assessment area found to be empty despite inspectors raising the issue.
"I didn't want to complain because at time because everyone was clapping for the NHS and it didn't seem right..."
CQC’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Ted Baker, said:“It is extremely disappointing to find that despite being warned about their hygiene, not enough work had been carried out to address infection control issues within the trust.
"It is particularly concerning during a time when infection control could never have been more important.
“We had reviewed the work carried out by East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust around infection prevention and control practices and issued a warning notice to them on August 3. However, the scale of the concerns were so great that we carried out a focussed inspection on August 11.
“Following the inspection, we reported our findings to the trust so its leaders know what they must address. We used our enforcement powers by imposing conditions on the trust’s registration, to ensure people are safe.
“We have assurance by our weekly engagement from the trust leadership that these issues are being addressed. We continue to monitor the trust closely. We will return to inspect it, to determine whether significant improvements have been made and embedded.”
"Staff have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic"
In a statement, the trust said it "acted to address the CQC’s feedback immediately after its visit".
Chief executive Susan Acott, said: “In August, a CQC inspection team visited the William Harvey Hospital and saw examples of practice which falls short of the high standard we all want to provide for our patients.
“Keeping our patients and staff safe is our priority. We have responded to the CQC with the actions we are taking and we are committed to the care and safety of every patient in our hospitals.
“Rapid, long-lasting improvements are being led by our new, highly experienced, interim director of infection, prevention and control - Dr Sara Mumford.”
Dr Sara Mumford added: "This inspection took place two months ago and we took immediate action to make improvements.
“Since the inspection, we have retrained staff in the correct use of PPE and hand hygiene, put in place additional checks for cleaning, hand hygiene and PPE, reviewed and strengthened our policies and are making physical changes to the hospital to support social distancing.
“Staff have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic to care for patients, and their care and safety remains our priority.”