Watchdog takes action against scandal-hit hospital after patients infected with coronavirus

Between 2014 and 2018 there were 68 baby deaths at the trust for children aged under 28 days old and of those, 54 died within their first 7 days. There were 143 stillbirths and 138 babies suffered brain damage after being starved of oxygen during birth.

The care watchdog has taken action against a scandal-hit hospital after large numbers of patients became infected with coronavirus on its wards.

East Kent University Hospitals Trust has been warned by the Care Quality Commission to take urgent steps after inspectors found patients on wards were being put at risk of contracting the virus.

It is thought to be the first time the CQC has used its regulatory powers against a hospital due to fears patients were at risk of catching the virus.

The Independent understands that the Care Quality Commission became concerned about the infection rate at the trust last month, when at one stage deaths from Covid-19 there accounted for almost 12 per cent of all hospital deaths in England.

An inquiry is already underway into poor maternity care at the trust after The Independent revealed in January there had been dozens of baby deaths and injuries to children over a four year period.

The trust told The Independent it had recorded 81 separate serious incidents in maternity care during the four-year period.

Bosses at the trust, which runs the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate and the William Harvey hospital in Kent, were first issued with a warning after the CQC found it did not have a named infection prevention officer in place, a breach of national guidance set out by NHS England.

The regulator then sent in a team of inspectors to the trust earlier this month.

They were so concerned about the safety of patients that the watchdog used its powers to impose formal conditions on the hospital which if breached could lead to further action including prosecution.

Bosses at the hospital have 28 days to appeal the conditions before the CQC can make the details of its concerns public.

According to the Health Service Journal, the trust had more than twice the national rate of hospital acquired infections of Covid-19 between 30 June and 26 July, with 12 per cent of infections diagnosed after patients were in hospital longer than 15 days.

Nationally the rate was just 6 per cent.

Due to concerns over the rate of infection on its wards, the trust tested 9,000 members of staff over five days at the end of July with 15 testing positive.

Chief inspector of hospitals Ted Baker said: “As a result of serious concerns, we have taken immediate enforcement action at East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust.

“CQC inspectors visited the trust on Tuesday 12 August after concerns were raised about the standards of care and the risk to patients.

“As the trust has the right to appeal the action that we have taken, it would be inappropriate for CQC to comment further. However, we will publish our findings and action taken when the legal process allows.

“In the meantime CQC will continue to work closely with NHS England and other local stakeholders to support the trust.”

The fear of coronavirus spreading within hospitals has caused many NHS trusts to split services and restrict access for patients to try and keep those infected separate from other patients to allow hospitals to restart surgery.

Earlier this week, safety watchdog the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch said it was investigating the spread of coronavirus to patients within hospitals in an attempt to draw up new advice for hospitals.

Research by King’s College London has found at least an eighth of Covid-19 hospital patients were infected while already in hospital.

The study looked at 1,564 Covid-19 patients admitted to 10 hospitals in the UK and in Italy during April.

At least 12.5 per cent became infected at least 15 days after they were admitted and tended to be older, much frailer and with existing health problems compared to those infected in the community. Other studies have estimated infection rates within hospitals could be as high as 41 per cent.

A spokesperson for East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust, said: “Keeping our patients and staff safe is always our top priority. We have reviewed and are strengthening our procedures and training, overseen by an experienced director of infection prevention and control. We are asking our staff to always follow recommended guidance, are making further physical changes to our buildings to improve infection control and support social distancing, and have reported on this progress to the Care Quality Commission, while being supported by NHS England.”

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