MPs demanded an urgent investigation into management at Birmingham Children’s Hospital last night after experts condemned a “third class” service which they claimed was putting patients’ lives at risk.
A damning report found staff were unable to recognise common operating theatre instruments, nurses are quitting because they fear safety is compromised, while parents are “told lies” to cover up delays in conducting medical procedures on seriously ill children.
The inquiry, by city primary care trusts, quotes consultants at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust describing renal transplant services at the Children’s Hospital as worse than in the poorer parts of Africa.
In a rare show of unity, all Birmingham MPs dropped party differences to urge Health Secretary Alan Johnson to order an investigation.
Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston) was satisfied that BCH continued to display “clinical excellence”, but there was an obvious need for “management and governance” arrangements to be examined.There were doubts about how BCH would fit in with the QE super hospital “centre of excellence” when it opens, she said. Mrs Stuart added: “The management team has to come up with some answers. They need to respond very quickly to the shortcomings that have been highlighted in this report.”
The document hits out at “a lack of clinical leadership” at both medical and nursing levels and describes tensions between BCH and UHB.
Consultants from UHB are no longer prepared to attend BCH until patients have been called to theatre and are insisting on preparing donor organs themselves rather than trust colleagues at the Children’s Hospital.
Children with brain damage have been involved in “close calls” because of delays in getting them admitted.
The document describes transplant operations: “Staff have not recognised the instruments when asked for them, leading to delays in the procedure while the correct instrument is located. This happens with common pieces of equipment that should be known to the staff.
“A direct comparison was made with support received on a charity visit to Lagos where in-theatre procedures were felt to be better than in BCH.”
The report adds: “The consensus view from the liver consultants is that paediatrics is getting a third-class service and putting patients’ lives at risk, compounded by increased length of stay.”
The report was commissioned after doctors at BCH and UHB complained that their repeated attempts to raise the alarm had gone unheeded.
Children’s Hospital chief executive Paul O’Connor said: “ An action plan has been developed and agreed with the PCT’s to address the concerns raised and we can confirm that there is no immediate clinical risk to any patients. We take any concerns about clinical practices at the Children’s Hospital very seriously, and will ensure that improvements are implemented swiftly.”
Dr Sandy Bradbrook, chief executive of Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust, said: “This is a good example of how commissioning organisations can exert appropriate pressure and direction on organisations providing services to ensure patient safety and improvement of quality services.”