CQC says 26 health providers are not employing enough staff for safety

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 15 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f284
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

The Care Quality Commission has warned 17 NHS hospitals in England, eight mental health trusts, and the London Ambulance Service that they are failing to employ enough staff to operate safely.

The warnings were issued after CQC inspections, but the names of the organisations were not made public until Labour’s shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, asked the CQC for them.

In its State of Healthcare report, published last November, the CQC said that of 250 inspections it had made of hospital services 40 (16%) had showed a failure to meet a staffing level sufficient to provide a good service.1 But this report covered the period up to March 2012, while the lower numbers released by Burnham included only those that were recorded as being non-complaint with staffing levels on 9 January 2013.

Hospitals and mental health services with unsafe staffing levels


Scarborough Hospital

Milton Keynes Hospital

Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro

Walton Centre, Liverpool

Queen’s Hospital, Romford

Stamford and Rutland Hospital, Stamford

Southampton General Hospital

Croydon University Hospital

Bodmin Hospital

Northampton General Hospital

St Peter’s Hospital, Maldon

Queen Mary’s Hospital, London

Chase Farm Hospital, London

Westmorland General Hospital, Cumbria

Pilgrim Hospital, Lincolnshire

St Anne’s House, East Sussex

Princess Royal Hospital, West Sussex

Mental health trusts

Ainslie and Highams Inpatient Facility, London

Campbell Centre, Bedford

Forston Clinic, Dorset

Cavell Centre, Peterborough

Bradgate Mental Health Unit, Leicestershire

Avon and Wiltshire NHS Mental Health Trust

Blackberry Hill Hospital, Bristol

Park House, Manchester

A spokesman for the CQC said that non-compliance with staffing standards did not necessarily mean that not enough staff members were employed, because “staffing” covered issues such as training as well as numbers. It had provided the information on request, as was its duty as an open and transparent organisation.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, called for swift action. “There can be no excuse for not providing appropriate staff levels when across the NHS generally there are now more clinical staff working than there were in May 2010—including nearly 5000 more doctors and almost 900 extra midwives,” he told the Telegraph.2

The newspaper quoted Labour’s shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, as saying, “The government is doing its best to lay the blame for the ills of the NHS at the door of the nursing profession. But nurses will not be able to provide the standards of care we all want to see when they are so overstretched and the wards so short-staffed.”

Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Programme that the figures were shocking. “The government’s got to explain what’s happening in our hospitals—why this is being allowed to happen. It’s got to take action to do something about it.”

Some of the named hospitals have taken issue with the report. The Walton Centre said that it had a very high ratio of staff to patients and that a negative rating that was based on a snapshot observation was “incorrect and unfair.”

The Bradgate Mental Health Unit said that patient safety was its upmost priority and that the CQC had been satisfied with its ward staffing levels after a routine inspection in October. The unit’s chief executive, John Short, said, “The temporary absence of non-nursing therapeutic staff when the CQC conducted its inspection did not and does not relate to patient safety but would enhance patient experience. We are taking action to respond to the inspection by improving the availability of therapeutic activities and have now recruited specialist workers to do this.”

And two Cornish hospitals, the Royal Cornwall Hospital and the Bodmin Hospital, said that the figures were out of date, as the most recent inspections had found them to be compliant. The Royal Cornwall said that it had been told to improve staffing levels last summer after an inspection found a ward where only two nurses were looking after 25 patients. An unannounced visit by the CQC in November had found the hospital to be compliant. Bodmin Hospital said that it had been told to increase staffing levels after a CQC visit in February and had done so, a further visit in September finding the hospital fully compliant.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f284