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Revealed: How sick babies were put at risk by a shortage of specialist staff at Walsall's Manor Hospital

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

Sick babies needing intensive care should not have been looked after at Walsall's Manor Hospital because it did not have the right specialist staff, a new report has revealed today.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said the hospital was in 'significant breach' of expected standards as it failed to have a specialist neonatologist on the consultant team in its neonatal unit.

The findings are part of a review into child care services sparked following concerns over the treatment of seven children at the hospital between 2006 and 2015.

Details of those cases have been blocked from publication but the review team found there was no 'specific theme or individual' linking the cases.

The review also looked at the way the wider paediatric and neonatal departments were operating and found an insufficient number of doctors and nurses, a lack of experienced staff and a 'high risk' strategy for evening and call cover with just one consultant covering the emergency, paediatric and neonatal departments overnight.

Walsall Healthcare Trust, which runs the hospital, said it was already taking action and had recruited new staff.

The trust is currently in special measures after watchdog the Care Quality Commission rated it as 'inadequate' and had already highlight concerns in the paediatric department.

As a result, 500 expectant mothers are being directed to Wolverhampton to give birth.

The report said: "The review team found a service that was incredibly busy, with committed and enthusiastic staff, and not working in a sustainable way. The nursing management was very good, going to great lengths to 'flex' available staff to cover deficiencies but the overall headcount is insufficient and the service has suffered from the loss of experienced staff.

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"On the neonatal ward there is a good team of advanced neonatal nurse practitioners, but their skills are being inappropriately used both to supervise junior staff in the absence of experienced neonatal nurses and they are also expected to cover deficiencies in medial capability which is a potential safety concern.

"The absence (until recent appointments) of a specialist neonatologist on the consultant team was a significant breach of British Association of Perinatal Medicine standards and the unit should not have been operating as a local neonatal unit."

The review team, which visitied in November, said the serious concerns were 'starting to be addressed' and has issued a string of recommendations. The trust has appointed three additional temporary consultants to boost staffing levels and is actively recruiting for a fourth. It has also recruited four neonatal nurses. It has also changed its processes for how staff respond when things go wrong.

Amir Khan, Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust Medical Director, said: "It is important that we continually review our services in order to ensure that we respond appropriately to, and learns from, concerns raised by patients and their families.

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"We want to be open about areas for improvement and involve our staff, patients and their families in developing sustainable improvements.

"Our Matrons, Consultants and Advanced Neonatal Nurse Practitioners are leading on this action plan and we are making significant progress."

The Trust's Chief Executive, Richard Kirby, added: "We are committed to being honest about when things go wrong, facing up to our mistakes and making sure that we do things differently in future if this is key to making things better.

"Central to this attitude is the clear understanding that it is essential we learn from our mistakes – at all levels within the organisation.

"It is really important to us that our patients feel confident their concerns will be properly aired and acted upon and ensuring that we do this well now and in the future is a priority for me, the Chair and the whole Trust Board."

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