Hospital bosses putting children ‘at risk’ with ‘disappointing’ standards, say inspectors

South Tyneside District Hospital.
South Tyneside District Hospital.

Hospital bosses in South Tyneside have been told some children being brought to the borough’s main hospital are being put at risk because of safeguarding issues.

Health watchdogs have told South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust to take action following a focussed inspection of safeguarding “at risk” children at South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has told the Trust, which runs South Tyneside District Hospital in South Shields, that it must make further improvements to protect children and young people who may be at risk – youngsters who may self harm, have been exposed to alcohol or have social services involvement.

In December last year, following an inspection, Professor Sir Mike Richards, England’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals, had rated the trust as ‘requires improvement’.

During an unannounced inspection in July, the team looked specifically at the process for safeguarding children and young people at South Tyneside District Hospital.

Sir Mike said he was ‘disappointed’ that he found little improvement with regards to safeguarding youngsters

Dr Bob Brown, the Trust’s executive director for nursing and quality, says an action plan has already been drawn up.

He said: “We fully accept the findings outlined in the Care Quality Commission’s report and the need for improvements to be quickly addressed.

“Immediately following their inspection in July, we drew up an action plan, which we are monitoring weekly, and we know that this has gone some considerable way to resolving issues of concern.

“Safeguarding children is one of our major responsibilities and we are very disappointed that we did not meet the exceptional standards we set ourselves in this regard.

“Our staff work hard every single day to keep children and young people at South Tyneside District Hospital and across our Trust safe and we can assure our local population that everyone is totally committed to protecting them in every way we can.”

The report found that, although staff understood their responsibilities for safeguarding children and young people, systems did not support them to identify and protect those at risk. Sir Mike said: “When we comprehensively inspected the services run by South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust in 2015, we found that staff were universally committed to delivering compassionate person centred care to patients and this was reflected in the outstanding rating awarded to the trust for caring services at the time. However we were worried about the trust’s ability to safeguard children and young people following a joint targeted area inspection earlier this year, which is why we returned for this focused inspection.

“I am disappointed that we saw little improvement in this area and have told the trust they have work to do. Although staff understood their responsibilities for safeguarding children and young people, there were no effective systems or processes in place to support them in identifying and protecting those that might be at risk.

“We found limitations within the patient recording system in the emergency department, which meant there was a lack of information available to staff, and there was limited oversight of safeguarding at management level.

“These are areas which South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust must address to ensure that children and young people aren’t put at risk.”

The report identifies a number of areas for improvement, including:

The trust must review the culture in the paediatric department and ensure that staff accountability, roles and responsibilities for safeguarding children are clear.

Formal supervision processes for safeguarding children must be put in place in maternity, paediatrics and the emergency department.

Training data must be accurate so that the trust is able to monitor by staff group those that have completed their safeguarding training.

The borough’s hospital trust has been in the spotlight in recent months.

This is due to a new alliance between South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and City Hospital Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

There are fears the hospital in South Shields will be downgraded, with Sunderland Royal dealing with more acute services, when the newly created South Tyneside and Sunderland Healthcare Group is in full swing. As a result the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign group was formed.

Already concerns have been raised after it was revealed the borough’s stroke unit will be temporarily centralised at the Sunderland Royal.

Bosses say the move is to strengthen the service and to ensure the best possible patient outcomes.

And then last month Steve Williamson, a top health boss at South Tyneside, revealed he was quitting early next year.

Mr Williamson, who was previously the chief executive of the borough’s trust become deputy chief executive, while Ken Bremner, Sunderland’s top boss, was appointed as chief executive across both trusts.

Last Saturday hundreds of people turned out to take part in a protest walk through South Shields town centre.

Gemma Taylor, South Tyneside Public Alliance area organiser, said: “This rally is to send a clear message to the Government that we are not going to sit back and accept the downgrading of our acute and emergency services.

“This is the first demonstration which has been organised at very short notice so I’m really pleased with the turn out.

“The general feeling of people are, they are concerned for the future of their acute and emergency services.”