Published: 17:46, 26 February 2021
| Updated: 20:45, 26 February 2021
Hospital inspectors have been blasted by an MP for launching an unannounced visit of a hospital A&E department at the peak of the Covid crisis.
Kelly Tolhurst said the outcome of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection before Christmas does not reflect truly on the situation at Medway Maritime Hospital.
The MP for Rochester and Strood said she was "disappointed" in the watchdog visiting the Gillingham hospital on December 14.
The CQC yesterday published its report downgrading the emergency department to inadequate – the lowest rating – stating "significant improvements" are required.
Inspectors noted the inspection came at the height of the Covid pandemic second wave which saw Medway become one of the most under pressure trusts in the country.
Ms Tolhurst defended staff in the department who have been at the forefront of the Covid response and facing extreme stress for the past 12 months.
The Conservative MP said: "I was disappointed that that the CQC decided to undertake an inspection of Medway Maritime Hospital on the 14th December, during the peak of the second covid wave for our hospital.
"The hospital was one of the first in the country to experience the effects of the ‘Kent variant’, which is 71% more transmissible and was not even acknowledged as a new strain until the 19th of December.
"Despite the extreme pressure caused by what we now know was the new variant, this was not fully credited by the CQC report, and as such I don’t believe that the report accurately reflects the position of the hospital.
"I am pleased to hear that the hospital is already in a much better position now than it was back in December, as the pressure of the second wave has eased.
"I would like to reassure people that they should not hesitate in attending the hospital if they are in need of urgent treatment and I commend the great work that staff have been doing delivering treatment and the vaccine under very difficult circumstances."
CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals for London and the South, Nigel Acheson, said the decision to inspect given the pressure of the Covid situation "was a difficult one".
“We saw that staff were working hard to provide care to patients in very challenging conditions.
"However, we had significant concerns from reviewing our own data, the views of healthcare system partners and information shared by people who worked for and used the service.
"We had a duty to inspect to support the trust and identify where improvements needed to be made."
The CQC highlighted eight main areas of concern is said must or should be addressed.
These included patient records not being updated enough, patients whose condition was at risk of deteriorating not being checked enough and issues with infection control measures to prevent cross-contamination.
Ambulance handover times taking as long as eight hours and some patients waiting more than 12 hours to be discharged home or admitted to wards with concerns about patient flow through A&E were also flagged up.
Leadership of the department was also put under the spotlight.
Inspectors flagged the tone and content of an email sent from the hospital executive team had contributed to low morale among staff who felt their efforts had not been felt appreciated by senior hospital bosses.
Medway NHS Trust chief executive James Devine says action has already been taken to improve the department and leadership culture in the hospital.
He said: "We have taken a number of steps since the CQC’s visit to address the findings from their inspection, including taking immediate action to improve the way we manage pressures within our emergency department.
"We have implemented an improvement plan to ensure we are consistently providing safe, high quality patient care, which is already making a positive difference to patients’ care.
"Actions we have put in place include working with health partners to reduce the number of patients waiting in ambulances, introducing processes to quickly identify and prioritise patients who deteriorate in ambulances, and opening more beds so that patients don’t wait so long to be admitted."
The hospital has also opened 20 more beds to cope with demands, increased reviews of patients waiting to be admitted leading to reduced waiting times, processes to quickly identify patients whose conditions are deteriorating.
A cross-agency approach to improve timely discharge for patients not needing to stay in hospital has also been introduced and a tailored development programme to improve leadership is now in place, the trust said.